Resolutions are silly, but the end of the year is a better time than most to take stock of the past year and set goals for the coming year. After you balance your accounts for the year, set aside at least a few minutes to come up with some goals for 2014.
To get you started, here are a few suggestions:Stop Taking Bad Clients
“Some of the best cases are the ones you never take.” — Randall Ryder
Some clients are quite literally more trouble than they are worth. In 2012, Randall put together a short list of red flags:
No doubt you have learned more warning signs. It wouldn’t hurt to get together with your partners and staff, if you have them, to talk through the warning signs of a problem client every now and then, to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to client intake.Figure Out Your Daily Revenue Target
A daily revenue target can be a powerful motivator. If nothing else, it is a useful way to track your success over time. Here is how to figure out what you need to make every day:
The result is what your firm needs to bring in, on average, every business day. (You might as well also write down your weekly, monthly, and quarterly targets.)
Every morning, take a minute or two to ask yourself what you can do to meet that goal and prioritize your tasks accordingly. You will not meet it every day, but when you do, make a note of it. Each week, month, quarter, and year, try to reach your daily target at least as often as you did during the previous period.
Even better, build rewards into your income target. If your target includes a new gadget for you every quarter, you are more likely to keep it in mind throughout the year. Consider sharing your revenue target with your partners or staff, as well, so that everyone is working towards the same goal (and sharing the rewards).
Just remember that your daily goal is just a target. Not all of your work is profitable, but you still have to do it. In fact, some of the unprofitable work is the most important stuff you do.Go Paperless
Paperless is not cutting-edge anymore. In fact, it isn’t even ahead of the curve. I went paperless in 2006, and I learned from lawyers who were paperless before that. Even many courts are paperless, now. If you aren’t paperless, that means the courts are more tech-savvy than you and your practice. It’s long past time to catch up.
There are a ton of paperless-office posts on Lawyerist that will help you get started. Here are some of the most-useful from the last year or so:
If there is not a scanner in your office, get one. Here are our picks for the best scanners for lawyers. And if you aren’t incorporating at least some paperless practices into your law practice, you are well behind the times, and falling further behind. Catch up.
If you drink coffee, resolve (this one is worth a resolution) to drink better coffee — or at least to serve better coffee to your visitors. We have had some debate on the relative merits of the french press and Aeropress, which are also convenient (especially the Aeropress) for making coffee at the office.
Sometimes, it’s the little things.
There are roughly 252 business days in a year. If you give yourself two weeks of vacation, that works out to 242 business days. If you want more vacation, adjust this number accordingly. ↩
Set Goals for Your Law Practice for 2014 is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
At one time or another, many lawyers consider ditching their legal career and doing something else. It’s no surprise why. A recent Forbes article reported that the number-one unhappiest job in America is associate attorney.
Pursuing an alternative career can be worth the (considerable) effort, but before you quit, take a deep breath and make sure you aren’t miserable for more-easily-fixed reasons. If the environment in your law firm is toxic, or if you are practicing in an area you don’t enjoy, do not give up on the profession just yet.
Lawyers can practice the same type of law in many different settings, or practice many different types of law in the same setting. If a change of firm or practice area — or going to a non-profit or government job — might cure the malaise, it is worth a try before leaving the profession entirely. It may not be easy, but when compared to transitioning to another career, it usually is.Take inventory
If practicing law is the problem, take an inventory of your skills, experience, and passion. Most lawyers have some or all of these skills:
Consider your experience, too. If you practiced employment law, your knowledge and experience will be a significant advantage in the human resources field. Or if you were an estate planner, you might be in a good position to try for a switch to a bank’s trust department.
Don’t forget time off the clock. Work on a non-profit board, for example, may provide other, non-legal skills that employers may find valuable. For example, if you have been the president of a board, you probably have management and fundraising skills. Or perhaps you have been politically active for a certain cause. If so, those skills might be beneficial to a government job in a similar area.
Finally, decide why you are so interested in the alternative career you have chosen to pursue. “I hate practicing law” will not go very far during a job interview; you need a convincing story about why you want a job outside of law and why the new chosen field is a better match for you than practicing law.
For example, if you’re the employment lawyer seeking an HR position, a “story” can be that you dislike the conflict inherent in employment litigation and would prefer more of a counseling and policy development role in an HR department. An estate planner may dislike the business development aspect of private practice (this story could apply to the employment lawyer as well), but still enjoys the nitty gritty of the complex planning that trust departments do.Career options
There are two advantages to seeking an alternative career in a field related to the legal profession. First, your experience as a lawyer will usually translate into a benefit that employers will understand. For example, if you have been an associate at a law firm doing lots of research, there are probably plenty of opportunities at Thomson Reuters or LexisNexis where that experience will be helpful.
Second, you will not have to do as much second-guessing about your decision to get a law degree. A law degree provides an excellent background for many law-related positions. And with most jobs in the legal sector, you still get to hang around lawyers and still feel connected to the profession — assuming you want to do those things.
Here are just a few of the more-popular examples:
Or, you may want to get as far away from law practice as possible. If so, you may want to consider these two fields:
Both industries are heavily regulated by federal and state statutes and regulations and employ both non-lawyers and lawyers in compliance positions. Here, a law degree, as well as private practice experience, could actually provide a lawyer with a competitive edge over a non-lawyer applicant. In these jobs, no one, including yourself, will think you are wasting your legal skills.
Of course, there are plenty more. There are numerous websites that provide more ideas.
Once you have an idea of what kind of job you want, or even where you want to work, research what is going on in that particular field. The Internet is a great place to start.
For example, if you want a job in healthcare compliance, research the Affordable Care Act to determine where there might be some new job opportunities or increased demand in related industries. Get to know which organizations are the major players. Your search may even unearth a conference to attend that could provide additional information.
Your research should be an active exercise. Do some informational interviewing. Find people in the field doing what you think you might want to do, and buy them a cup of coffee. When you request an informational interview, make it clear that you are not seeking a job, but only want to learn about a job or field (on occasion, this type of networking can lead to an actual job, but don’t count on it). You will be surprised how many people will be happy to get together with you and provide you with lots of information. In general, people love to talk about themselves, and are flattered that someone has asked for their advice.
Find answers to following when researching or interviewing.
Questions to ask about the person you are interviewing:
And don’t forget a thank-you email or card.
Cherly Heisler, a career consultant who specializes in working with attorneys pursuing an alternative career, sums it up best. Her advice is to
[L]earn everything you possibly can before you jump ship: read about, listen to, network with, and study everything possibly related to the field you hope to pursue so that you are totally prepared for what you are about to get yourself into.Searching for the alternative career position
There are two job markets; the open one and the hidden one.The open job market: advertised jobs
There are a wide variety of job websites, and the University of Miami keeps an updated, comprehensive list.
Finding a job in the open job market can be a frustrating experience. Many job openings generate a huge amount of submitted resumes, which means lots of competition. Even more important, employers in this economy usually have the upper hand, and will frequently be able to seek and find job candidates with exactly the work and educational background they are looking for. If one’s only prior work experience has been practicing law, the chances you have such a background are slim.The hidden job market
Conventional wisdom says that most jobs get filled without ever being advertised. Open positions get filled by bosses asking people if they know people who might be interested. Those people refer from their own network. This is why career experts keep pounding away at the importance of networking. The more people you know who know you are seeking a certain position, the more likely someone will contact you about a job opening.Interviewing for the job
Prepare for any job interviews by considering your answer to these questions, which are unique to situations where a lawyer interviews for a non-legal job that one must be ready to answer. They include:
For more tough questions, see the NALP guide, “Handling Tough Interview Questions” (pdf).
In addition, be prepared to tell your story about why the field or position interests you more than law practice. And be ready to persuade the prospective employer that you have the skills necessary to make the career change.Be patient
Don’t be surprised if it takes a lot of time to find a new job. In most cases, the amount of time to find a new job will be proportional to the skills and knowledge you bring to the table. Expect the process to take months, even if you have a strong background for an alternative career. For some, it could even take a few years.Improve your odds
Since lawyers tend to be risk averse, many who seek alternative careers do so while still employed as an attorney. This is an especially-good idea for those who feel the need to do a significant amount of informational interviewing.
Furthermore, this time can be used to add to your skill set and knowledge base. Many take classes, attend conferences, and volunteer. By doing any of these things, one can enhance skills and knowledge, as well as demonstrate to prospective employers the commitment to an alternative career. These activities also provide opportunities to meet people who can help locate a position.Be persistent
Ask any lawyer who has pursued an alternative career and they will all say that it required planning and persistence; not to mention, a considerable amount of time and effort. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, according to Heisler, “they also will tell you that doing the work they enjoy, with people they like and respect make it all worthwhile.”Other Resources
There are a variety of books on this topic. They include the following:
Featured image: “Grey hairy man looking fed up in front of paper work” from Shutterstock.
Get a Better Job: When and How to Pursue an Alternative Career is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
This is not a joke. There actually is a way to get a free-ish MacBook Pro. As a matter of fact, I am typing this on one, right now. Here is how I got it.
My wife’s white plastic MacBook died sometime over the summer. It wouldn’t even turn on. Since she rarely uses her MacBook (at home, she mostly uses her iPad), she didn’t notice it was broken for a while. After she did, I made an appointment to take it to the Apple Store to see if it could be resurrected. It was a pretty old laptop, but I had just added some memory to it, and it suited her needs. On balance, it made sense to keep it going.
At the Apple Store, the person who helped me told me the logic board was bad. She offered to send in the MacBook for refurbishing, since there could be other issues, related or not. She said they would give the laptop a complete once-over and fix any problems they found for a flat fee of $280. It came back two days later with a new logic board, new battery, new keyboard, new trackpad, and other new stuff. We got over $1,000 worth of parts and a 90-day warranty for just $280 (plus tax, of course). It felt like a great deal. The computer felt nice and zippy with a new, long-lasting battery.
Except the problem wasn’t fixed. It kept freezing after waking up from sleep, or just randomly when my wife was in the middle of something important (she took the MacBook with her to a two-day arbitration shortly after it came back from the Apple Store). It took us a few weeks to get it back to the Apple Store, and it turned out the new logic board was also bad. The service rep came out and told my wife he had great news. Her MacBook had just passed the five-year mark, and was now considered “vintage.” My wife kind of liked the idea of owning a vintage computer, but the rep explained that Apple did not stock parts for vintage computers. They couldn’t fix it. At this point, I imagine my wife was getting ready for bad news, but none was coming. Since they could not fix her computer, they would have to replace it with an equivalent new laptop, which turns out to be a 13″ MacBook Pro.
They even let us upgrade to a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro for the difference in price.
This was the day before Christmas, which made it even better. The day after Christmas, they called to let us know that my wife’s files had been transferred, and we took our new laptop home.
Yes, it was not actually free, since we had to pay for our old MacBook to be refurbished in order to wind up in a position to get a new one. It was also a pretty unusual chain of unlikely events that led to the replacement. But if you want a free Mac of your own, here’s a step-by-step guide to maybe getting one:1
Okay, that’s obviously pretty hard to replicate. And I suppose it wasn’t actually free, since we had to pay for the old MacBook to be refurbished. The Apple Store rep who helped us said it had not happened at that Apple Store for two years. He described the chain of events that led to our free MacBook Pro as a “perfect storm.” He meant it nicely, though. I think he was even a little jealous.
It is probably not worth trying to replicate this unless you have a nearly-five-year-old Mac with a hardware problem, and even then, only if you would want to use that Mac if it did not have a hardware problem. In that case, the cost of refurbishing your computer is a great deal all on its own, and it’s great to know that Apple will stand behind the work — even if that means giving you a brand-new computer to replace the one it couldn’t fix.
If it’s not clear, this is a pretty ridiculous way to go about trying to get a free Mac. Don’t blame me if you try it and it goes wrong. ↩
Auto accident victims are used to getting an avalanche of solicitations by mail, but according to The Columbus Dispatch, an Ohio personal-injury law firm (Scott Schiff & Associates) saw a chance to cut in line by sending text messages.
Personal-injury lawyer Scott Schiff, president of the firm, said … “It’s obviously a means of reaching the public through the most advanced technology out there,” he said.
Texting, first of all, is not advanced technology. We’ve been texting since our cell phones looked like this:
In fact, text messaging is about 17 years old, in the US. But that’s lawyers for you. It takes a while for technology to gain traction in this industry.
More to the point, what a horrible thing to do. Kevin O’Keefe imagines a likely scenario:
Imagine a father visiting his daughter in the hospital the day after a serious accident and getting text messages from a lawyer with links to a website with pictures of cars rolled over in a ditch, trucks hitting cars, victims being loaded into ambulances, and x-rays.
That’s probably not far off. An Ohio lawyer, Nita Hanson, had a 17-year-old client who received such a text message within 24 hours of his accident, and asked the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline for clarification.
First, here’s how text-message solicitation works, according to the Ohio Supreme Court:
In the usual scenario reported to the Board, lawyers obtain the cellular phone numbers of prospective clients from accident or police reports. The lawyer then sends SMS text messages (hereinafter‚ “text messages”) directly to the cellular phone numbers indicated in the reports. The messages contain direct solicitations for professional employment. Given the limited number of characters usually available in a standard text message, the message contains very general information about the lawyer and his or her legal services. Often the message will contain an internet link to a website that contains additional advertising material.
The Ohio Supreme Court, by the way, cleared the practice in its advisory opinion (pdf). I don’t think it’s accurate to say the court “approved” of sending text messages to accident victims, though. Or, as Scott Greenfield put it, “says it’s cool.” The court did not express an opinion on whether text-message solicitations are a good idea, or certify them as non-douchey in any way. In fact, it imposed a number of requirements on text-message solicitations. For example, if you want to solicit someone by text message in Ohio, you must include the entire text of Ohio’s “Understanding Your Rights” statement:
THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO, WHICH GOVERNS THE CONDUCT OF LAWYERS IN THE STATE OF OHIO, NEITHER PROMOTES NOR PROHIBITS THE DIRECT SOLICITATION OF PERSONAL INJURY VICTIMS. THE COURT DOES REQUIRE THAT, IF SUCH A SOLICITATION IS MADE, IT MUST INCLUDE THE ABOVE DISCLOSURE. 1
That’s two text messages all by itself. And that’s not the end of the court’s requirements. Lawyers also have to include “ADVERTISING MATERIAL” or “ADVERTISEMENT ONLY” at the beginning and end of (each?) message. Given all the conditions imposed by the court, it might be more appropriate to say that the Ohio Supreme Court disapproved of the practice, rendered it extremely unlikely to be effective, and allowed it to go on any way because it ultimately couldn’t find a provision in Ohio’s ethics rules to prohibit it.
Fortunately, the “cutting-edge” marketing of the firm that started this whole thing seems not to have paid off. Scott Schiff says “the texting program wasn’t that effective, and the firm isn’t doing it now.”
O’Keefe is pretty sure the race to the bottom is not over, though. “Follow this advancement of technology argument and we’ll soon have lawyers talking out of drones flying over car accidents.” Expect ethics inquiries like these in about ten years:
Ambulance Chasing in the 21st Century is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
If you’ve got a new tablet (or if there is one waiting under your tree), you will probably trying every app in the store. Keep at it, by all means, but to focus your app addiction, I reached out to two specialists: Jeff Taylor of The Droid Lawyer, and Jeff Richardson of iPhoneJD.
Here are the apps they recommend you start with:Top Apps for Android
Almost all of the apps Jeff Taylor recommends for your new Android tablet are free. ezPDF Reader has a few purchasing options if the free trial doesn’t do it for you, and Depose, which is built to help you organize your deposition questions and notes, is just $7.99.
Taylor also recommends picking up a Chromecast for $35 (or just $29.99 on Amazon, at the moment), which makes it easy to control a television from your tablet. And, unless your tablet is for work only, he also recommends Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu+ for entertainment.
Here are Taylor’s 2013 pick for the best Android apps for lawyers.
Next page: Top Apps for iPad …
Get These Apps for Your New Tablet is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Computers are a tool of the lawyer’s trade, and you have a responsibility to learn to use the tools of your trade properly. I don’t mean that you need to be a power user. But you must become tech-savvy. Learning the following will not make you a hacker, but they will make you a bit more competent when it comes to that box on (or under) your desk that you use all day to serve your clients.
Here are five things I wish you would take time out of your busy schedule to learn before you hurt somebody.1. Get Over Your Fear of Your Computer
Many people experience a sort negative cognitive bias when it comes to computers. They sit down at a computer believing it will be hard to use. If you do this, your computer will be hard to use. Stop psyching yourself out.
Computers are easy. That is actually true, most of the time. And it will be true for you, if you want it to be true. I have watched lawyers who can spend hours sorting through statute books act completely mystified when asked to find a file they just downloaded. It should be embarrassing.
If you don’t know how to do something, figure it out. Don’t be afraid to break things. And even if you do break things, a broken computer is just about as useful as one you are afraid of. Plus, the more time you spend figuring out how to do things with your computer, the easier it will be to use. Play around a bit.
Okay, sure. Computers don’t always work the way you expect. When that happens, you just have a puzzle to solve. It’s usually pretty easy, too. Just go Google the problem and look for the solution. Speaking of which …2. Search For Things
Search is the most useful tool on your computer, not just on the Internet. Stop wasting time. Search for things.
If you remember the days of waiting around while Windows 95 crunched through your entire hard drive trying to find something, think again. Windows (since Vista) and OS X index your hard drive like Google indexes the Internet, so that searching is nearly instantaneous. Desktop search is now so good it’s generally a waste of time to hunt through menus and file folders. Instead of searching as a last resort, it is often more efficient to search first.
In Windows, use F3 to search from the desktop (F3 also brings up a search dialog in many programs). On a Mac, use Cmd+space to search from anywhere using Spotlight. These searches will bring up programs, files, and help related to your search query. You can even set up smart searches like all PDF files in X directory that I saved in the last 30 days and save them (here’s how on Windows and OS X).
In addition to searching the Internet or your computer, you can also search within a web page or document. Amazingly, according to Google, 90% of people do not know how to do this. What are those 90% doing instead — scrolling down the page, scanning for what they want? That is just making things difficult, and results in a lot of wasted time and unfound things.
Searching a web page or document is as easy as pressing Ctrl+F (or Cmd+F on a Mac — think F for find). It works in documents and web pages, but it also works for searching within a lot of other software, too. Use it in QuickBooks to find lost transactions, or Outlook to find lost email (I get several emails a week asking me to re-send something to someone who obviously does not know how to search their email).
Ctrl/Cmd+F should be second nature. As soon as you think to look for something, your fingers should find the keys on their own.3. Use Styles in Microsoft Word
No matter what kind of lawyer you are, documents are a substantial part of what you do, and they may be the only tangible evidence of your legal work. So why do so many of yours look so awful? I’ve gotten tons of Word documents over the years, from lawyers and from contributors to Lawyerist, and very few show any kind of understanding of how to use Word. Look, Word (or your preferred alternative) is probably the single-most-important software you use. So learn to use it.
How do you create a heading in a document? Here is the wrong way:
Type the text in all-caps. Center it. Highlight it and make it bold. Maybe underline it, too, for good measure.
Setting aside the typographical issues I’ve just raised, here is the right way:
Select Heading 1 from the Styles menu.
If you don’t like the way it looks, learn to modify it. If you do not use styles, you are using Word wrong. Or Pages or LibreOffice or whatever it is that you use. Here is a tutorial for Microsoft Word. Please remedy this. (Oh, and learn to use hyperlinks in Word documents, while you are at it.)4. Name Your Files Properly, and Organize Them
The number of lawyers I have met who have never even looked at their files in Explorer (Win) or Finder (Mac) is alarming. (Far fewer Mac users, to be fair.) Especially because it is so basic. Managing files is what your computer does. That is, quite literally, its primary function. You should know where they are.
Once you know where your files are (i.e., not “in Word”), you can probably do a better job naming and organizing them.
Name your files so they sort into chronological order and so that you can tell what they are from the filename. Like this:
2013-04-09 Letter to Adam Smith.docx
By putting the date at the beginning, with the year first, your files will automatically sort in chronological order. (If the document does not have a date, I usually save it with the date I received it, and annotate the date like this: 2013-04-09r. I have a few other annotations for other situations, like e for the date I received something by email, or s for the date I scanned something.)
For easy version control of files you are working on, save a new version with the current date every time you work on it. That way, you will always know which is the most-recent copy. Or if you are working on it with multiple people, add extra information to the filename. I always add SGedit to a file with my revisions in it, for example.
By giving the file a descriptive filename, it is easy to tell what it is when searching for it or viewing it in Explorer or Finder. Add your client’s name or file number, if you don’t mind having longer filenames.
Organize your digital files properly, too. Keep them in one location, and use folders to organize your client files just as you would organize them in your filing cabinet.5. Uninstall Crapware
At ABA TechShow, I walked up to the Thomson exhibit to check out the new Firm Central practice management software. I was kind of shocked to see an Ask.com toolbar on the display computer. Those toolbars are just crapware — software that serves no valuable purpose and generally slows down your computer, crashes it, spies on you, or all of the above.
Remove crapware. Keep an eye on things when installing software so that you don’t wind up installing the Yahoo! toolbar when you update Java. If you get a new computer, get rid of anything you don’t need. If you don’t use it, get rid of it.
In Windows, go to the Control Panel (in Windows 8, you can just press Win+X to bring up the menu) and click the Programs and Features icon. Uninstall anything you don’t use (Windows even tells you the last time you used something). You don’t need to worry about uninstalling things like toolbars or anti-virus software you aren’t paying to keep up-to-date. If you are worried about other things, Google the name to see whether you ought to keep it.
This was originally published on April 9, 2013. It was revised and republished on December 19, 2013.
5 Things I Wish You Would Learn About Computers is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Starting in 2015, William Mitchell College of Law will begin offering a hybrid curriculum that involves online classes punctuated by intense classroom time. This pretty much puts William Mitchell on the cutting edge of legal education.The History of (the Lack of) Innovation in Legal Education
In October, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education released its draft report and recommendation. In the report (pdf), the task force urged the ABA to encourage law schools to innovate and make better use of technology in education. William Mitchell’s Dean Eric Janus observed that most legal education happens more or less the same as it always has: 50-minute blocks of time, three times a week, with students trapped in a classroom.
“The ABA has been a little conservative over the years in terms of its standards and allowing for innovation.” —Dean Eric Janus
Maybe that’s because innovation is discouraged in the legal academe, says Sara Glassmeyer, CALI’s Director of Community Development (though she was not speaking on behalf of CALI). Glassmeyer said that one of her former law students went to an American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Workshop for New Law Teachers, where he was explicitly discouraged from trying anything new. She said many professors even use the same books they were taught from. So, either law schools are not very open to trying to new things, or they aren’t very open about the new things they are trying. Glassmeyer said her attempts to assemble a list of innovative law school programs has been an exercise in frustration.
There are some law schools out there innovating. I have written about Case Western’s “Client-Ready” Practical Skills Program and the similar program offered by Washingon & Lee. And Glassmeyer pointed out that some unaccredited law schools are handing out online law degrees. But William Mitchell is definitely out front not only for seeking a variance from the ABA that will allow it to deliver about half of its curriculum online, but along with Case Western and Washington & Lee, for talking about it.William Mitchell’s Variance and its New Curriculum
“What’s really exciting is that the ABA has now undertaken a program of fostering innovation in legal education.” —Dean Eric Janus
Ordinarily, the ABA standards (pdf) require two-thirds of the law-school curriculum to take place in a classroom. Only twelve credits may include “distance education” classes, which are defined as courses in which more than one-third the instruction happens outside the classroom. William Mitchell’s variance — apparently the first “innovation-related” variance granted by the ABA — raises that threshold to half, so that every class can include more distance education (which includes online learning), and allows the school to include distance education in the first year.
The new, four-year curriculum, which will be offered as an alternative to its existing part-time and full-time programs, will embrace e-learning and make the most of classroom time. The program will not be fully-online, but it will involve a lot of e-learning. Most of each semester will be spent learning through a combination of digital learning tools, such as web-based lectures, chat rooms, discussion boards, flipped classrooms, and more. (For example, in a trial practice class, students might record their performance and upload their video for critique.)
Classroom time will be concentrated in short, intense bursts devoted to skills training rather than lectures. The first and third semesters will launch with preparatory work alongside faculty, while each semester will end with a one-week, 56-hour “capstone” on campus. This will involve simulation related to the subject taught during the preceding semester. The program will also include externships during the fourth and last semesters, to give students real-world lawyering experience.
The goal, says Dean Eric Janus, is to “think much more creatively about how to get students to become expert practitioners.” He says the program’s focus is on enabling people to attend law school who cannot afford to move close to campus for three years, or who have work or family commitments that make it inconvenient or impossible to be on campus for a traditional full-time (or even part-time) schedule. Janus says William Mitchell is not lowering its standards for students interested in the program, and it is not interested in drastically increasing the size of its student body.The Future of Legal Education
William Mitchell’s new law degree program does not launch until 2015, so it will be some time before we know whether it has been a success, by any measure. But just by moving foward with what looks like a pretty radical transformation of the law-school curriculum, it seems sure to make waves.
Will other schools follow suit? Keep in mind that William Mitchell is certainly no diploma mill innovating out of desperation. It is a 113-year-old law school with a strong local reputation that can boast a former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice (Warren Burger) among its graduates. US News ranks William Mitchell in its first tier.
I think we will see more law schools seeking variances along the same lines between now and 2015. I doubt William Mitchell’s program will stand alone by the time it welcomes its first new students. And if the program is a success, you can bet more first-tier law schools will follow suit.
Glassmeyer may be right that the legal academe has stifled education, but with applications dropping, many law schools in the red, and law jobs in short supply, it looks like more and more law school deans and professors are going to be willing to try something new, anyway. For the next few years, at least, it seems like a good bet that online learning tools will play a big part in the drive to innovate.
Update: Elie Mystal points out at Above the Law that tuition for the new program won’t initially be discounted. Dean Janus did tell me that he hopes the program will eventually carry a lower price tag, but he said there is nothing particularly low-cost about setting it up.
William Mitchell Goes Online — Is This the Future of Legal Education? is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Barring an end-of year viral hit (which, let’s face it, is unlikely), these are the posts from 2013 that you clicked on the most, so fire up Instapaper (the Instapaper iOS app is free for a few more days, FYI) or Pocket and take a few of them home for the holidays for a re-read:1. Microsoft Says No Office for iPad
Back in February, Deborah extracted this from a Businessweek interview of Microsoft’s former CEO:
When asked point blank by Bloomberg Businessweek, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a terse answer to the question of when we can expect an iPad version for Office: “I have nothing to say on that topic. … We do have a way for people always to get to Office through the browser, which is very important.”
It went viral, and a lot of people stopped by Lawyerist to read and comment. With over 130 comments, it’s also one of the most-discussed posts on Lawyerist.2. Best Law Firm Websites, 2013 Edition
Our annual law-firm websites contest is always popular, and so it was again in 2013, when we had some of the most-impressive law firm websites yet. Next year, we will be moving up the date of our contest and calling for nominations early in January. Keep a lookout for our announcement after the fog of New Year’s Eve wears off.3. Proper Deposition Objections
Susan Minsberg’s beginner’s guide to objecting at a deposition has been popular since she first posted it, and it is even more popular now that she has revised it, adding details and more information about handling deposition objections.4. Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Desktop Document Scanner Review
After several years without a new flagship model, Fujitsu finally released the iX500 at the beginning of 2013, and it was worth the wait. Some might suggest that we talk too much about the ScanSnap around here. Fair enough. It’s just that we really really like it.
If you are in the market for a desktop document scanner, this is the one you should buy. There’s no other scanner I would want sitting on my desk.5. Law School Do-Over: 7 Things I’d Do Different
Chris Bradley offered 7 recommendations to current law students, and most of them boiled down to this sage advice for life as well as law school: stop taking yourself so seriously! All 7 are worth passing along to the law students in your life.6. Your Personality Matters to Clients
Does law school rob lawyers of their common sense, or are people who go to law school just less likely to have any? In either case, lawyers seem to need to be reminded of obvious things, now and then.
Whatever the reason, Randall’s very good, commonsense advice on personality (have one) has been a very popular read this year.7. Switching to Mac isn’t That Hard, Even for a Lifelong Windows User
Judging from the popularity of this post, a lot of lawyers are tired of Windows. I was, and I was especially turned off by Windows 8, which is why I finally bought a Mac. Turns out it’s not hard to switch, and I definitely don’t regret it.8. Three Grammar Rules to Forget (Because They’re Wrong)
Forget about these “rules”:
1. Don’t start a sentence with “and” or “but”
2. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition
3. Adverbs must always end with “ly”
Just forget about them.
Why eight popular posts? Why not five or ten? I guess eight just seemed like the right number.
Lawyerist’s Most-Popular Posts from 2013 is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
A scanner is no longer optional equipment for lawyers. Even if you have not gone paperless, courts, clients, and other lawyers will expect you to be able to scan things and distribute PDF files. You need a scanner in your office, at least, and probably on your own desk.
And not just any scanner. All-in-one systems are clumsy and inefficient, and flatbed scanners are too cumbersome for scanning multi-page documents. In a law office, you need a dedicated document scanner. Depending on how you practice, you may also want a portable scanner, or one that can scan 3-D objects like books or small physical exhibits.
Here are the ones you should consider.Best Overall: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500
If you are only going to own one scanner, it should be this one. The ScanSnap iX500 is compact, fast, ridiculously easy to use, and good-looking. Plus, it works over wi-fi and scans to your smartphone or tablet. It comes with a copy of Adobe Acrobat (for Windows), and … well, I just can’t say enough good things about it.
I’ve owned three ScanSnaps, the S500, S1500, and iX500, and I have been thrilled with all of them. You can’t go wrong with a ScanSnap iX500, with just one narrow exception …
It is easy to add hyperlinks to legal documents, but it seems to intimidate lawyers, because they rarely do it. I get a lot of Word documents as draft posts for Lawyerist, and very few of them contain hyperlinks. And I’ve seen a lot of pleadings and memoranda in state and federal court litigation, but none of them (other than my own) have had hyperlinks.
Adding hyperlinks to Word documents is easy, it is useful, and it is something you really need to know how to do.Inserting Hyperlinks in Word Documents
For starters, you will need the URL of the hyperlink you want to insert into your document. Navigate to the web page or document in your web browser, and then copy the URL from the address bar. (Just highlight the URL and select Edit > Copy from the browser or right-click menu, or use Ctrl +C in Windows or Cmd + C on a Mac.)
Now, in Word, select the text you want to link to something. In a statement of facts, for example, you might select your citation to the record, like so:
Now, go to Insert > Hyperlink, right-click and select Hyperlink, or just press Ctrl/Cmd + K. The resulting dialog looks slightly different in Word for Windows and Mac.Windows (Word 2010)
The Insert Hyperlink dialog on Windows versions of Word is confusing, but all you need to do is paste your URL (Edit > Paste or Ctrl + V) into the Address field.1
Then, click OK, and that’s it, you’re done!Mac (Word 2011)
Just paste your URL (Edit > Paste or Cmd + V) into the Address field, and click OK. Done!Converting Word Documents with Hyperlinks to PDF
There is a right way and a wrong way to convert Word documents to PDF. The right way results in smaller files and preserves hyperlinks. The wrong way makes your documents look silly, with unclickable, blue, underlined words.
For the right way, go to File > Save As in Word, select PDF from the Save as type (on Mac, Format) menu, and save your PDF document. If you use Windows and have Acrobat installed, you will also have a File > Save as Adobe PDF option, which you can use instead. This gets you a text-based PDF, instead of a scanned image, which means it preserves most of the information your Word document had, including links. If you print the document and scan it, you just get an image. OCR can restore the text information (albeit with some errors, usually), but it will not automatically add things like links.
If you need to add your real signature (as opposed to an e-signature) to your document, then just scan the signature page, not the whole document. You can replace the blank signature page in your PDF with your scanned signature page. Do do this in Acrobat, just go to Tools > Pages > Replace.
For a lot more information about using Acrobat for legal documents, and in law practice generally, check out PDF for Lawyers.Why You Should Use Hyperlinks in Legal Documents
When it comes to litigation, at least, because judges want you to. Linking citations to the record on PACER or your state’s e-filing system, if it has one, is a big time-saver for judges. When it comes to legal documents you draft for other purposes, it may be useful to add hyperlinks, but consider how the document will be used.
If people are likely to read the document on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and if hyperlinks would be useful, then you should definitely use hyperlinks. But you cannot click paper, so if there is no chance people will read your document in an electronic format, then it probably does not matter if you add hyperlinks, unless they are for your own use.
FYI, there is no point in linking to documents on your computer or a file server unless the recipient of your document will be reading it on your computer or, in the case of a document on your file server, on a computer on your network. This can be useful for internal documents, but it is useless for anything else. ↩
How to Insert Hyperlinks in Word Documents is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Getting Things Done is both a book and a productivity system. But GTD, as it is affectionately known by its practitioners, does not prescribe a set of tools. It is really much more simple. It’s really just the Right Way to make and manage lists.
“You have to think about your stuff more than you realize but not as much as you’re afraid you might.” (Page 15.)
The system is quite simple: get your stuff out of your head and into a trusted system that holds everything you need to do at work, at home, and anywhere else. Once you clear your mind by getting your to-do lists out of your head and into your system, you can stop putting out fires and start focusing on doing things, instead of just thinking about doing things all the time.
You may think productivity systems are for gunners, but GTD is for anyone who wants to get more done with less stress. Read: lazy people. GTD works fine for gunners, but it is also a really-effective productivity system for lazy people. Lazy people who still need to get things done, that is. Like me. And probably many of you.
Here is the gist of GTD, and some tips for applying GTD in a law practice. This article is no substitute for actually reading the book and going through the exercises in it, but it will give you the overview, and you can probably get started doing GTD before you even start reading Getting Things Done.Capture: The Inbox
Inboxes are key to GTD, and to use them properly, you have to shift your thinking just a bit. Inboxes are not places to store the things you have to do. They are places to capture the things you have to do.
A key tenet of GTD is the separation of capturing, processing, and doing. Capturing is just gathering everything you need to work on, in as few places as possible. Hence, the inboxes.
You should have as few inboxes as you can, but as many as you need. Most people will need at least two: an email inbox, and a physical inbox on their desk. You may be tempted to pull things out of your inboxes one at a time to process them, like you always have. Resist this impulse. Instead, set aside time to process your inbox to empty, as often as it needs it. You may need to process your email inbox a few times a day, but your physical inbox may need processing only once a week.
The key is to separate the gathering of information from the processing of the stuff you have gathered, and from the doing the tasks you have put together. Your inboxes are just collection points.
From day to day, write down everything that pops into your head that you need to do. You can carry around a notebook or notecards, or just use something like Evernote. Do not do it. Just write it down. Use a separate page or card or note for each thing, and drop these notes into your inbox every chance you get.
Other things that can go into your inbox:
And so on. In short, anything and everything you have to do something with. Just don’t worry about what you have to do, yet. That comes next.Do It, Delegate It, Defer It, Drop it: the Heart of the Getting Things Done System
You should sit down to process your inbox at least once a week. When you do sit down to process your inbox, you will mostly just be sorting things into your system, but anything you can do in two minutes or less, you should just do right away.
In other words, take one thing out of your inbox at a time. Decide what needs to happen to it. If you can do it right now, in two minutes or less, do it. Otherwise, do it, delegate it, defer it, or drop it.
Sort everything into three piles and the trash can. While processing, you may find reference material, too. If you don’t have to do anything with an item, but you want to keep it around, it’s reference material.
The three piles correspond to three lists:
What you put on those lists (or in those folders) should be the “next action” towards the goal.Next Actions
Most people put goals on their to-do lists. For example, a typical to-do list might include “respond to defendant’s motion for summary judgment” or “plan a trip to Hawaii” or just “SmithCo merger.” But those do not describe what you need to do, they describe what you ultimately want to accomplish.
The things you need to do are next actions. If you need to deposit your client’s advance payment, that’s a next action: “Deposit Smith retainer check at Wells Fargo.” Many tasks are actually composit tasks, though. In GTD, these are projects.Projects
It is natural to think of each client or matter as a project. But in GTD terms, a project is merely anything you need to accomplish that consists of multiple steps. Take that summary judgment response, for example. The next actions might include:
Because projects will consist of next actions across your lists, think of the project as a label or tag that goes with a next action. In Remember the Milk, for example, which is what I use, you would probably just use a tag for each project. On paper, you might keep a separate list for the project, so that you can see all the related next actions at the same time. However you do it, make sure that all your active projects have a next action at all times. When you complete one, add the next one.43 Folders
You can track things to do later on a list, with due dates. This is especially effective if you use Outlook or Clio or Remember the Milk, so that you get a reminder when things are coming due. But you can also use a low-tech-but-highly-effective method, the 43 folders.
The 43 folders are just that, 43 manila folders. Label 12 with the months, and the other 31 with the numbers 1–31. Put them all in a file cabinet next to your desk. The folder for the current month goes in front, then the numbered folders, then the other months.
When you defer something, put it in the month that it will come due. The last day of each month, take out the next month’s folder and sort anything in it into the numbered folders. (If you’ve got a deadline on the 15th, however, you may want to “tickle” yourself the month before. To do this, just drop a reminder in the previous month, or even a couple of reminders, if you want to keep reminding yourself as the deadline approaches.)
Each morning, take out the folder for that day of the month, pull out anything in it, and add the next action to your Do Now list.
The 43 folders are a simple and effective, paper-based tickler system.Reference Material
You will also receive reference material. This might be stuff you just want to hold onto, or it may support a project you are working on. A set of alphabetical folders works great for this, and they can be in a physical file cabinet, or on your computer. A personal database like Evernote also works well for reference material.Using GTD in a Law Practice
GTD is perfect for lawyers. Lawyers are “knowledge workers,” which means they are just the sort of people David Allen had in mind as he was coming up with GTD.
The only difficulty I have had applying GTD in my law practice is figuring out how to fit clients and matters into the system. Because, as I mentioned above, under Projects, the client or the matter is rarely the project. Most of the matters you work on are actually a collection of projects, like opening the file, getting up to speed on the background, creating documents, and so on.
So you will have plenty of projects, but when it comes to your practice you also need to organize projects and next actions under the clients they belong to. My solution was my paper work plan, which helps me organize next actions under the relevant matter. The only downside is that I never figured out an easy way to track projects as part of the work plan. I would generally just use an ad-hoc tag on the list (like “+MSJ”) to help me keep each project moving forward.
Staying on top of deadlines is, obviously, one of a lawyer’s most-important tasks. That’s why a weekly review of your system is so important, so you don’t miss anything. Take the time to sit down and review your work plan or your lists at least once a week. Then make sure you identify what’s coming up, so you can work ahead of schedule, instead of just barely getting everything finished on time.Don’t Let Getting Things Done Get in the Way of Getting Things Done
Just remember that fiddling with these tools is not the same thing as being productive.
Many people who get into GTD spend a lot of time coming up with their own, personal implementation of GTD. They play with pens and notebooks and apps and templates, and so on. You probably will, too. It can take a little while to figure out just how to get GTD to work in your life. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Just remember that fiddling with these tools is not the same thing as being productive. When you find something that works, stop fiddling and use it.My GTD Toolbox
Because talking tools is part of the fun, though, here is what I use. I have three inboxes. The first is my email inbox. Then, I have my physical inbox, at my desk. And I use Evernote or whatever is handy to jot down notes on the go, or capture anything that needs capturing, including stuff from other inboxes, like Facebook, text messages, Hangouts, etc. Everything I capture gets dropped in my __Inbox_ notebook in Evernote by default.
Sometimes I carry my own version of the “Hipster PDA,” a bunch of blank index cards in a Levenger Shirt Pocket Briefcase. I prefer writing on paper, even if it is less convenient and means carrying more stuff. I just take notes or write things down, one thing to a card. Then, I drop the cards into my inbox, or else snap a picture of them using Evernote’s document camera.
(As long as you keep your inboxes to a minimum, it doesn’t really matter what you use to capture your thoughts. You could switch it up daily, as long as the things you capture end up in the same place: your inbox.)
I process my email inbox several times a day, and my other two inboxes about once a week. Anything I can’t knock out with the two-minute drill goes into Remember the Milk or Google Calendar.
Because I can do nearly everything on my to-do list from wherever I happen to be, I don’t find contexts particularly useful beyond the basic do now, waiting for, and later, which are my task lists in Remember the Milk. I also have a list for recurring tasks in Remember the Milk. I use tags for projects, which usually get their own tab, but I try to keep tags to a minimum so I can focus on just entering tasks, not tagging them.
My calendar is just a calendar, but I am dedicated to it. If it’s not on my calendar, I’m not doing it.
I use Instapaper for things I want to read later (usually on my iPhone or iPad), and Evernote for my reference file. And I use Delicious for saving links, although I should probably just use Evernote for that, too.
From day to day, I often make a list of most-important tasks, or MITs. These are the two or three tasks that, if I accomplish nothing else, will make for a productive day. When I was practicing law full-time, I used my work plan to keep track of my active cases (you could also track them as projects, but I liked having a dedicated work plan, on paper). Now, I use an editorial worksheet to keep track of deadlines and revisions in progress for Lawyerist.
When I sit down to work, I review my Do Now list and my editorial worksheet, pick a task I’m up for, and get it done. Checking off tasks gives me that little hit of endorphin, and I move on to the next one. This is a whole lot better than putting out fires all the time. Fires break out all the time, of course, but since I know I am in control of my task list, it is easier to process them into my system instead of feeling compelling to put every one of them out, right away.
My GTD-ish system is a bit more complicated than I would like, but it is about as simple as I can make it. And it has stayed pretty much the same for several years, now, which means I don’t waste time fiddling with it. My system is just how I do everything, from little things like scheduling a haircut or washing my daughters’ blankets for daycare to big things like redesigning Lawyerist or planning a vacation. Everything goes into the system.
That means that I really can check out of work on the weekends, or when I go on vacation. Everything I have to do will be waiting for me when I get back, safe in my system, so I don’t need to waste brain power worrying about it.
That’s the real value of GTD, I think. It’s not just that it’s a pretty effective way to get organized. The killer feature is that once you adopt GTD, you can check out completely. And when you check back in, you can be productive immediately.Get the Book, and Make the Most Of It
Obviously, I think you should read Getting Things Done. It truly is a life-changing productivity system.
But if you do get the book and read it, plan on following the exercises. At one point, for example, Allen will tell you to sit in the center of each room in your office and your home with a stack of paper to capture all the “open loops” in those rooms (watering a plant, fixing the molding). And he will tell you to do the same with your email inbox, and just about anything else. This initial capture is critical. Don’t just read about it, do it.
You will not realize the benefits of GTD until you dive in and do it. And once you do, I’m positive you will be glad you did.
This article was originally published on July 16th, 2009. That’s why there are some really old comments on it. I re-wrote the post entirely and re-published it on December 12, 2013.
Getting Things Done, for Lawyers is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Last week, Bitter Lawyer’s Greg Luce committed “Avvocide” by sabotaging his own Avvo profile. He put more work into his fake profile than he ever put into his real one, and he was rewarded with a boost in his Avvo Rating, to 9.2 (“Superb”).
Avvo, if you don’t get out much, hosts profiles for every lawyer in the country. You can claim your profile, add your picture, information about yourself and your practice area, and endorse other lawyers. Think Yelp for Lawyers. You can also, somewhat controversially, answer consumers’ legal questions online. There’s more to Avvo, but that’s the gist of it. Some lawyers swear it gets them lots of referrals. Others just swear about it. Still others ignore it.
To find out how Avvo handles this sort of thing, as well as less-ridiculous profile problems, and why Greg’s — er, the Goat Lawyer’s — score went up as a result of his prank I called Avvo’s general counsel, Josh King.Goat Lawyers Aren’t a Major Problem for Avvo
When Avvo was new, according to King, a lawyer did something similar to his profile as a form of protest. He used a profile picture of Bozo the Clown, and filled out his profile with bogus awards and fake information. King said they “sort of let him run with it” for a while. Greg and this lawyer are definitely outliers.
Since it’s rare, Avvo does not have formal policies on dealing with such ruffians. In Greg’s case, Avvo reverted his profile to its previous state, and, according to King, “our customer care changed the [password] on Goat Lawyer, concerned that he would continue his hircine ways.” Seems fair. King said an email to him (or, presumably, a support ticket) should get Greg’s account restored.Policing Avvo Profiles
In Greg’s case, Avvo picked up on the prank via Twitter, where we were having fun with it all day.
— Lawyerist.com (@lawyerist) November 27, 2013
Avvo does some policing of lawyers’ profiles, but mostly it relies on lawyers to police themselves. King pointed out that “the disincentive to put fraudulent stuff on an Avvo profile is pretty high.” False advertising is an ethics problem, after all, and dealing with your state’s ethics board is probably worse than anything Avvo could do. But lawyers also like to keep Avvo up to date on their colleagues, often with letters. “It’ll just be a blank envelope with an order or a newspaper article about someone being disciplined,” King said. He assumes the anonymous letters are probably coming from other lawyers, which makes sense. Nobody else uses the mail anymore.
Would ethics boards distinguish Greg’s ridiculous false information from actual misleading information in a lawyer’s profile? While ethics boards don’t appear to have much of a sense of humor, King said it would be hard to see how Greg’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Ruminant Lawyers Association, for example, would mislead anyone.Goat Lawyer’s 9.2 Avvo Rating
When Greg sabotaged his profile, he was surprised to see his Avvo Rating jump to 9.2. This has to do with which profile information Avvo uses to calculate the Avvo Rating, particularly the awards, publications, and speaking engagements.
Your score will not go up with every award, publication, or speaking engagement you add. King said it’s probably a good idea to add non-legal awards, for example, to flesh out your profile, but they will not increase your Avvo Rating. Avvo keeps a database of organizations, publications, and conferences that do boost the score, though.
In other words, adding a fake award from a fake organization will not increase your score. But adding a fake award from a real organization, might.
In Greg’s case, it was probably due to his fake Creighton Law Review article, “Reexamining EPA Regulations Regarding Plastic Fencing, BPA, and Chewable Contours of the Farm,” and his Minnesota CLE speaking engagement, “Tech Tools for Lawyers, Goats, and Canaries.”A Related Issue: Endorsement Spamming
Since I had King on the phone, I also asked him about the endorsement spamming Mark Bennet discovered. King called it a fairly new development in the way lawyers use Avvo, and that they are looking into it and considering what to do with it. He did point out that, beyond a certain number, endorsements do not affect the Avvo Rating. On the endorsement spam, King said “It’s weird because it doesn’t really do him any good.” Likewise, he thinks endorsing lawyers you don’t really know just reflects poorly on the lawyers involved.
I’m not sure my endorsement of the Goat Lawyer reflected well on me, but it did make me laugh:
Why the Goat Lawyer Had a “Suberb” Avvo Rating is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Law school final exam season has begun, and whether you are a 1L or a 3L, you are probably digging into your outlines and meeting with your study groups. Going through our archives last week, I realized we’ve practically written a book on law school final exams, written by some pretty successful law students, now adjunct faculty, Nena Fox and Randall Ryder (although short enough that you’ve got time to read it, now). Here are the posts, which cover big-picture stuff like winning the law school mind game and detailed advice for closed-book, open-book, take-home, and essay exam-taking (each link will open in a new window).Winning the Law School Mind Game
First things first. One of the most important pieces of advice I received during was: “first, win the mind game.” To do this: remember what you know, prioritize something that has nothing to do with law school, make a plan and stick to it, and limit talk of law school and exams.
Image: “Male hands writing task while examination” from Shutterstock.
The Lawyerist Law School Exam Study Guide is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Law school success can be defined multiple ways, but getting good grades meets any definition of success.
Law school exams are unlike any other test you’ve taken, which means you need to meticulously prepare and execute your gameplan.
Here’s how to make it happen.
Read all our posts on law school exams: Winning the law school mind game / Closed book law school exam preparation tips / How to succeed on open book law school exams / How to succeed on take-home law school exams / 10 steps to writing a great law school final paper / Clearly, the answer is not obvious / Tips for hand-writing a law school exam.Step 1: get your head right and make a game plan
Completely overlooked and underrated, getting yourself in the right frame of mind is a critical step to success. Law school exams are different from college exams, but you can still rely on some of your old (and presumably successful) study habits. One of the most helpful things I learned to do was live in a bubble from other law students. What other people are studying, where they study, and how much they study is not relevant to you.
You have to make your own plan and study in a way that works for you. For me, that meant literally creating a calendar of when I would study for each class. I was never a fan of cramming a semester’s worth of a class the night before the exam. That way, I could ensure I devoted sufficient time for each class, rather than haphazardly deal with each exam as they occurred. Don’t forget that the grade for each class, depending on the number of credits, counts the same. Getting an A in one class and C’s in three others is not a success.
Perhaps the best way to create your gameplan is to talk to 2Ls, 3Ls, and review old exams on reserve at the library. Here’s another brilliant tip: listen to your professors. They will usually tell you what to expect on the final—and eliminate topics that you do not need to study.Step 2: adapt your strategy to the type of exam
Every professor is different, which means you can expect in-class finals, take-home finals, or even a final paper in lieu of an exam. Regardless of the type, you should still follow step 1 to gather information and create a plan specifically for each final.
Closed-book exams seem to be less prevalent, but they can also be the most difficult. Not only do you need to master the material, you need to have all of it stored in your brain. It’s a little deflating to realize how important memorization is, but put that aside and start connecting concepts to names of cases. That can be a very easy and very effective way to score points.
If you are taking an in-class exam that’s open book you still want to prepare in a similar manner, but tweak your approach. Having a well-organized outline is much more important and can become a lifesaver during the actual exam. Quite simply: know where to find what you are looking for. Your outline and your notes are only useful if you can find that needle in the haystack.
A take-home exam is a different kind of beast that requires a different approach. You have more variables to control and take into account. First of all, decide in advance where you will write the exam. School is a default choice, but don’t forget about the distractions and mad rush to the printers near the finish line. Second of all, pay even more attention to style and editing. Your professor will expect something more polished than a 3-hour final. Budget at least a half-hour, if not more, to edit and revise your work. Never underestimate the importance of a well-written paper.Step 3: never panic—take a deep breath and press on
The competitive nature of law school makes even the brightest students think they are in the wrong line of work. I’ll never forget looking at one of the class gunners during an exam and realizing he was sweating more profusely than anyone else in the room. That was pretty gratifying moment.
Regardless of how well you prepared, you are bound to get some curve balls during exams. But don’t forget that everyone else is getting the same curve balls and is probably as dumbfounded as you.
During my 2L year, the last essay question on an exam asked how a specific law applied to a situation. I stared at it blankly for five minutes and thought “it has zero application” but kept thinking I was missing something. Finally, I wrote sentence along the lines of “that law has no application to this situation.” Afterwards, I found out that it was a trick question—and I had written the best answer.
So when you find yourself freaking out and fighting your instincts, stop. Go get a drink of water, trust your gut, and answer the question. More often than not, your gut is right. And it’s a skill you need to start developing in law school.
This was originally published on January 8, 2013, but since fall semester exams start next week for many, it seemed like time to put it back on the front page.
Featured image: “Perfect school grade A plus of exam and happy woman” from Shutterstock.
How to Succeed on Law School Exams is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Buying a good document scanner is obviously critical for going paperless. So is a solid backup strategy. But there is a bit more to going paperless than that. You need to think about your paperless workflow.
In other words, how will make sure you collect, scan and file all the documents that come into your office? And I am using the word office loosely, here. You may get things in the mail, by email, or from other sources. You have to make sure you collect everything, scan everything, and until you scan it, keep stuff that has not been scanned and filed separate from stuff that has. If you do not, you will waste a lot of time, at best. At worst, you could lose documents.
Nothing may leave the inbox unless it is scanned before you do anything else with it.Adopt inbox-centric thinking
The inbox is probably the most-crucial element in a paperless office. Your inbox collects the document you need to scan and file. That means your inbox must be sacred. Here is my rule: Nothing may leave the inbox unless it is scanned before you do anything else with it.
This is a hard-and-fast rule. Violating this rule is grounds for dismissal from the firm.
If you go paperless, you have to know that your digital file is complete. You can only have one, complete copy of your file, and it should be the digital one. Once you go paperless, the digital file is the useful one, the one that will be backed up remotely and redundantly, and the one you will be working from. You should be able to shred anything that is not (a) in your inbox, or (b) filed away in your physical file cabinet, which you should not need to access very often.
The only way to ensure that your digital file is the complete one is to have a hard point at which files make the transition from not-filed to filed. That should be your inbox. Your inbox_es_, really. Besides the one on your desk, you obviously have an email inbox, and you probably have other inboxes that you use to collect things that need to be filed in your clients’ files. Keep track of all of them, and apply this rule to all of them.After the inbox
Everything that is not in your inbox or in your filing cabinet should be shreddable
Immediately after you pick something up from the inbox, it must go into your scanner, after which you should file it where it belongs. Now, you can do one of the following with the paper you just scanned:
You will probably shred most of the paper you get. Getting rid of paper, after all, is the best part about going paperless. Most of the paper you get is not worth keeping, anyway.
But think about the word paperless as meaning less paper, not no paper. In addition to originals you have to keep, keep whatever other paper you want to, for whatever reason. Just remember that your digital file is your “real” file. In a paperless office, there should be only two kinds of paper outside of the inbox:
Everything that is not in your inbox or in your filing cabinet should be shreddable, even if you do not actually shred it.Alternative approaches
There are many other ways to manage your paperless workflow, but I don’t think any of them are as simple and effective as what I have suggested, at least not for small firms. The above rules are clear and easy to follow, which makes it easy to hold lawyers and staff accountable if they don’t follow them.
Going paperless should be efficient, not tedious.
Some offices do not scan everything that comes in, and instead prefer to stamp documents that have been scanned. This eliminates the need to be draconian about the inbox, but it introduces inefficiency and the potential for confusion into the process. At some point during every file, someone will have to manually sort through a stack of paper, looking for SCANNED stamps.
Going paperless should be efficient, not tedious. Create an unbreakable “wall” between paper than has been scanned and paper that has not.
Other offices do not scan files in progress, but only digitize their archives. While digital archives have advantages over paper archives, this defeats nearly every other advantage of going paperless. If your files are on paper, they are not backed up. You cannot access them remotely. You cannot sync them to all your computers. You cannot pull them up on your phone. You can do this, but if you do, you are really missing out on the advantages of going paperless. Since you will be scanning everything, anyway, why not do it up front?
The only time I think it makes sense to try another approach is when your firm is big enough that it would be difficult to put a scanner on every lawyer’s desk (or their assistant’s desk) and ensure they are all following procedures correctly.Bigger firms
If your office is big enough that lawyers do not do their own filing, putting a scanner on each lawyer’s desk probably does not make sense. The scanners should probably go on the secretaries’ or paralegals’ desks. Otherwise, the system can function pretty much as above, with one exception. You will need a way to inform the lawyers when they have a new document to review.
As new documents are scanned and filed, the responsible lawyer(s) (and their staff), may need to know about the new documents. I can think of a few ways to do this:
Those are just a few of my ideas. If you have found something else that works, please let us know in the comments.
If your firm is big enough that you have someone (or a department) responsible for mail, you should probably incorporate scanning into that department so that everything is gathered and scanned centrally. The scanning department would then be in charge of circulating documents or notices to the appropriate lawyers and staff. Or, perhaps, a new department is necessary to handle the scanning and notification, depending on the size of the operation.
But as soon as you take responsibility for managing the file away from the lawyer, documents can start to fall through the cracks if you are not careful. Even if you have a central department scanning and distributing incoming documents, what about email? What about phones? What about the lawyers’ notes?
Whatever you do, make sure you have a solution for collecting all the documents relevant to a file.
And if you are at the scale where you are realistically considering a central scanning department, you should probably hire a consultant to help you procure the right equipment and create a paperless workflow and procedures.Closing files
When you terminate the representation, get rid of any paper you still have by sending it to your client, along with a copy of their digital file on a CD, DVD, or USB drive. (Use a storage format they are likely to be able to access from a typical computer. Also, notify your client of your document destruction policy, and let them know that when the time comes, you will be destroying their file without further notice to them.
In order to do this, you have to make sure you have gathered everything into the file. That means emails, notes, drafts, documents, etc. Make sure you can gather everything into the client’s digital file, in one place. If you have physical evidence, take a picture and return the original to its owner. When you close a file, your goal should be to have nothing but a single file in your archive, which you will delete in 10 years (or whatever your malpractice insurance carrier recomments).Take the time to design a paperless workflow
Once you find out how simple it is to scan things, you may be tempted to just dive in and start scanning everything in sight. That is actually a good idea, at first, but you need to come up with a system to make sure that you collect, scan, and file every document that comes into your office, or that you generate, or that otherwise materializes. The best way to do this is with a firm inbox policy that separates documents that are not scanned from those that are, and can be shredded.
This article was originally published on August 10, 2010. It was pretty much entirely rewritten before being republished on December 4, 2013.
How to Design Your Firm’s Paperless Workflow is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Technological incompetence used to be merely a competitive disadvantage. Now, it is a potential ethics violation — or even legal malpractice.
During my first year of law school, we were not allowed to do computerized research. Instead, we were taught to use the leather-bound reporters, Shepherds, and treatises. It was only during our second year that we were deemed worthy to use Westlaw and Lexis to “confirm” our book findings. (Of course, I doubt any of us ventured into the stacks again.)
This approach reflected the general attitude of the legal profession in the mid-to-late 1990s. Technology was grudgingly accepted, but not required. Lawyers at big firms had online research accounts and solos went to the law library to use the books. Nobody thought anything was wrong with this, although online research did give big firms a competitive edge.
In 2013, email is ubiquitous, and just about every lawyer has some form of electronic research available on his laptop, tablet, or phone. And everyone — lawyers included — uses Google to find everything else. In law practice, that includes research on witnesses, opponents, judges, and anything else not found in a Fastcase, Westlaw, or Lexis database. Technology is an unavoidable part of practicing law.Ethics rules follow practice
The ethics rulemakers have taken note of this evolution, and the rules have grown to require technological competence.Lawyers cannot ignore technology
The ABA made it abundantly clear that lawyers must keep up with technology when it amended comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1 on competence. Comment 8 now reads:
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.
As Nicole Black, Director of Business Development at MyCase, puts it, “I think it’s pretty clear that […] lawyers can no longer turn a blind eye to technological advancements and their effect on the practice of law.” Without necessarily invoking the ABA comment, courts are taking a similar approach.
“The court considered it a “matter of professional competence” that lawyers should investigate social networking sites ….”The duty to Google
A seminal case in the area of availability of information and lawyers’ obligations to seek it out is Johnson v. McCullough, 306 S.W.3d 551 (Mo. 2010, en banc), in which a party sought a new trial based on a juror’s nondisclosure of his litigation history. While acknowledging the lack of a Supreme Court rule on the extent to which a party is required to research a potential or actual juror, the court stated:
[I]n light of advances in technology allowing greater access to information that can inform a trial court about the past litigation history of venire members, it is appropriate to place a greater burden on the parties to bring such matters to the court’s attention at an earlier stage. Litigants should not be allowed to wait until a verdict has been rendered to perform a Case.net [state online database similar to PACER] search for jurors’ prior litigation history when, in many instances, the search also could have been done in the final stages of jury selection or after the jury was selected but prior to the jury being empanelled.
Johnson, 306 S.W.3d at 558-59.
The court ultimately ruled that parties must use “reasonable efforts” to conduct the described search, and courts must ensure the parties have a reasonable opportunity to do so. Given this rule, if a lawyer in Missouri fails to conduct this search and later discovers information that may have impacted a juror’s service, he is likely to find the court unsympathetic to a motion for new trial. And in that case, the lawyer may have committed malpractice and an ethical violation.
Maryland took a similar approach in Griffin v. Maryland, 192 Md. App. 518 (2010), where the court considered it a “matter of professional competence” that lawyers should investigate social networking sites as part of their due diligence. (Griffin’s holding on authentication of that social media evidence was overruled on appeal, but the appellate court took no issue with the idea that attorneys have an obligation to review social media evidence as part of their due diligence.)
“We have not quite reached the level of ‘if you can google it, you must,’ but we are fast approaching it.”Judges can use Google, too
Other courts have ruled against parties claiming not to be able to find particular people (usually other parties to the case) when searches turn up contact information not found by the complaining party. For example, see Munster v. Groce, No. 18A02-0409-CV-738, n.3 (Ct. App. Ind. 2005) (court stated that “In fact, we discovered, upon entering ‘Joe Groce Indiana’ into the Google™ search engine, an address for Groce that differed from either address used in this case, as well as an apparent obituary for Groce’s mother that listed numerous surviving relatives who might have known his whereabouts.”); DuBois v. Butler, 901 So.2d 1029 (2005) (in referring to locating a party, “advances in modern technology and the widespread use of the Internet have sent the investigative technique of a call to directory assistance the way of the horse and buggy and the eight track stereo”).
We have not quite reached the level of “if you can Google it, you must,” but we are fast approaching it. Lawyers are no longer safe ignoring potentially-discoverable information online.
These examples pertain to due diligence in litigation, but the vast possibilities for extrapolating these rules are limitless. What if a party to a contract could have discovered a mistake of fact or a fraudulent misrepresentation with a simple Google search? Parties’ rights may be tremendously affected by the availability of information online, and attorneys’ failure to attempt to locate that information may prove fatal to claims and careers.Technology competence is now required
Even seemingly minor administrative details of practicing law are now unavoidably ruled by technology. In the mid-1990s, as email began to emerge as a societal trend, it was frowned on by the legal profession. In 1999, email was still a clunky and barely-used tool at the federal court where I clerked. It was used primarily to let us know of building closings and fire drills. We certainly had no significant contact with each other or counsel appearing before the court. We did not even email draft opinions to our judges; they were printed out and hand-delivered.
“The obligation to keep up with technology is not a directive to buy every new gadget and gizmo.”
Now, many states require attorneys to maintain an active email account, to monitor that account and respond to messages, and to disclose the email address to the state bar. A South Carolina lawyer was even suspended recently for failing to do so. See Supreme Court of South Carolina Order in Appellate Case No. 2012-213164 (discussed in detail by Nicole Black on her blog, Sui Generis). Attorneys must at least be competent in electronic discovery and know what options are available for electronic storage of documents and files.E-discovery competence
In order to competently conduct discovery and meet the relevant ethical obligations, lawyers cannot bury their heads in the sand about electronic documents and the trails they leave behind.
When the concept of e-discovery began to emerge, it seemed primarily limited to BigLaw litigation involving big, corporate clients. My own experience was a securities enforcement action in 2001, where we combed through audit workpapers and emails using a Lotus database. Now, even litigation between individuals represented by solo attorneys is likely to involve electronic discovery.
Effectively performing e-discovery is required by basic rules such as ABA Model Rule 1.1 on the duty of competence and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on e-discovery. Preservation of electronic documents on your own side of litigation is mandated by the same rules always governing preservation of evidence (such as ABA Model Rule 3.4), and also by specific e-discovery rules in place in the Federal (such as FRCP 26(f)) and some state courts. Moreover, the Federal courts require parties and counsel to report to the court on the details of their e-discovery, bringing in attorneys’ duty of candor to the tribunal (ABA Model Rule 3.4).
Failure to adequately and competently perform e-discovery is a host of ethical violations just waiting to happen.Staying on top of tech trends
The obligation to keep up with technology is not a directive to buy every new gadget and gizmo. It most certainly does not mean you must use them in your practice.
New technology like cloud computing makes tasks like file sharing quick and easy, but lawyers must consider client confidentiality and data security. So far, seventeen states have weighed in on the question of how to use cloud computing within the confines of ethical rules. They primarily focus on balancing risks and benefits while ensuring client files remain safe and secure. (For more detail, see my article on upcoming regulations.)
Of course, approaching new technology with caution does not mean discarding it until ethics regulators form an opinion. Regulators are often slow to act, for good reasons, and while we wait for them, some technology has the potential to quickly resolve dilemmas facing attorneys. For example, disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy resulted in chaos in the courts as courts and attorneys lost files. It would most likely be a violation of Model Rule 1.1 to ignore remote backup in any state, but especially if you live in an area at risk of similar natural disasters.Luddites are at a competitive disadvantage
Technological competence is not just unethical; it can make you look foolish and impair your effectiveness as an advocate.
A great illustration of this went viral during the George Zimmerman murder trial, when the prosecutor attempted to show that a witness had close ties to Zimmerman’s brother by introducing her Facebook and Twitter pages.
Here, he attempts to show the brother and witness were connected on Facebook and Twitter. But his complete lack of understanding of either platform makes the whole thing laughable. The prosecutor may not have violated any ethics rules, but he looked like a fool in front of the jury.
This problem is not limited to the courtroom. Private lawyers may have a hard time getting hired if they cannot use technology efficiently. Billable rates are already high, and technologically-incompetent lawyers may spend too much time on tasks that technology should make simple. The result is, effectively, churning of the bill. One in-house lawyer even gives a skills test to potential outside counsel. The results of his initial test had 100% of 9 firms he tested failing miserably.Where the rules are heading
New rules and comments on attorneys’ need to keep up with technology have begun to propagate, and more will follow. With substantive rules come ethical obligations and malpractice standards. The age of the law firm partner who can’t remember what Facebook is called, or who asks his secretary to print out his emails, or who goofs up a video conference during trial, is past. Technology is integral to the practice of law, from both a practical and ethical perspective.
Luddite Lawyers Are Ethical Violations Waiting To Happen is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Plaintiffs’ contingency fee litigation is costly and risky. Occasionally, fee delays and litigation costs can build up, leaving the firm in a bit of a slump. Working with traditional lenders can be troublesome. These cash flow issues can seem overwhelming, but fortunately, specialty litigation finance companies offer a solution in Attorney Fee Acceleration. Fee acceleration is when a specialty funding company offers an advance on an attorney’s legal fees when a settlement payout has been significantly delayed. This product, offered by certain legal funding companies, can help contingency fee attorneys who are struggling with difficult cash flow issues.
Contingency fee law practice is an inherently risky endeavor. For one, contingency fee attorneys do not charge an hourly rate, and do not accept payment until after a settlement has been awarded and paid. This means that an attorney can go the entire duration of a case without receiving any payment. Secondly, contingency fee attorneys often invest their own funds into cases and the firm’s other expenses. It’s uncertain whether there will be a return on investment at the end of the day; cases can be lost, or settle for less money than anticipated. Moreover, attorney fees can be challenged by the judge, defense, or client, and wind up being reduced. It’s uncertain whether or not the case in question will even settle favorably. Cases can be lost, or settle for much less than originally anticipated. Basically, attorneys invest incredible amounts of time, energy, and capital into cases that may not make them any money in the end.
The costs associated with litigation, as both plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys are aware, can be enormous. However, defense firms are often more well-off than plaintiffs’ firms, and usually have an easier time financing litigation because they are paid either at the beginning of the litigation process, or are paid incrementally throughout the case. Contingency fee plaintiffs’ attorneys are not, and are responsible for financing litigation without advanced payment. The litigation costs that attorneys are responsible for include discovery, expert witnesses, deposition, document production, and travel, among other things. Financing litigation of a single case, or even multiple cases, coupled with potential payout delays, can create a huge financial burden for contingency fee attorneys. In this situation, many contingency fee plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek financial assistance.
At first glance, traditional lenders seem like a good option because they offer relatively low interest rates and are typically low-risk. However, for attorneys, traditional forms of financing, like bank lines of credit or personal loans, make it difficult to acquire enough money to finance necessary expenses. Traditional lenders seek physical collateral, which attorneys and law firms lack. Many plaintiffs’ attorneys rent office space, so the office could not be used as collateral, and a bank is less than likely to accept an attorney’s desk as a secured deposit. On top of that, the bank will not accept the attorney’s balance sheets as real value. An attorney’s balance sheet is based on projected payouts without any set payout date. Unlike most companies that can use invoices as valued collateral, the nature of contingency fee work is too uncertain for securing traditional loans. Fortunately, non-traditional funders offer services that do not require secured collateral, and have financial services tailored specifically to meet an attorney’s needs. One such service, as mentioned earlier, is post-settlement attorney fee acceleration.
Fee acceleration has many benefits, both in terms of the financial stability that it offers, and in terms of the convenience of application. Unlike a traditional loan, accelerating legal fees does not require collateral, personal credit information, or knowledge of the attorney’s or firm’s assets. Only the delayed legal fee is considered for the funding application. Once an application is processed and approved, a contingency fee attorney can start reaping all the financial benefits of accelerated fees. With access to advanced capital, the law firm can start investing more into current and future cases, which will in turn allow the attorney to collect more fees down the road.
A law firm cannot be successful without the capital to invest in the future. If you ever find yourself in a position where your firm is struggling with cash flow, a post-settlement fee advance may be the best solution. Attorney Fee Acceleration is one of the products offered by RD Legal Funding to provide contingency fee attorneys with the financial boost they need to run a successful practice. Fee Acceleration can help you access the capital you need to grow your firm, invest in new cases, and collect the top litigation resources you can. With a steady flow of capital, you can do the best you can possibly do for your client, which in turn helps you do the best you can do for your firm.
Attorney Fee Acceleration: A Solution to Law Firm Cash Flow Issues [Sponsored Post] is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Practice management software can be an extraordinary tool for organizing your practice, especially if you have to coordinate with other attorneys or staff. But not everyone needs or wants to use it.
Software is not a silver bullet, either. It will not magically transform a disorganized practice into an organized one. It really only works if you have the discipline to stay organized in the first place. If you can do that, you can do it just as easily on paper. In fact, the best case management system I have used — by a long shot — is paper-based: my weekly work plan. (You can download it in .odt or .doc format.)
My work plan is just a template, obviously, but it is a pretty straightforward example of one. If you master work planning on paper, you will be less likely to miss dates or be surprised by deadlines, even if you decide to do your work planning in practice management software in the future. You may decide you prefer the advantages that come with planning in software, but it is just as likely that you decide paper is more effective. Give it a try, then decide.
Here is how to use a paper work plan:Plan weekly
Either Sunday night or Monday morning, sit down with your work plan from the previous week. By now, it will probably be covered in notes and scribbles, and that makes it the best place to start.
The first time you sit down to do work planning, of course, you will have a blank work plan. Here is how to fill it in.
Each open case file should be on its own row. In the CASE column goes your identifier for that case (client name, case number, or whatever you like). Under UPCOMING DATES, put all your hard deadlines and appointments. For example:
I have developed all sorts of little annotations and conventions for this column, and I am sure you will, too. Feel free to develop your own style, although you may want to develop a standard set of abbreviations if other people in your office may need to decipher your work plan.
Under DO NOW, put all the stuff you need to be working on for the client that you can be doing right now. I sometimes annotate these with dates, too, if there is no corresponding date in the previous column. For example, you might need to call your client to discuss a settlement offer, email your partner a quick status update, and figure out how to get a recording from your client into your digital file system. (Put everything you have to do on your work plan, big or small.)
Under DO LATER, put all the tasks you will have to do on the case, but that you do not need to be working on right now. Here, dates really are helpful. For example, if I know I will need to be working on a summary judgment brief in two months, I will put a start date or due date to remind me when to move it to the DO NOW column.
Under WAITING ON, put everything you are waiting for someone else to complete. I use this column as a tickler, and I also tend to send out a bunch of emails at the end of each week (gently) reminding people of the things I am waiting for them to do.
I generally type everything into my work plan at the beginning of the week, and then scribble all over it during the week week. When I sit down to do my work planning again, I start with the saved copy from the previous week, and add everything from my scribbled-up copy. I also scan my old work plans, which is probably not necessary.
Always leave a few blank rows at the bottom for new cases that come in during the upcoming week.Most-important tasks (MITs)
The top row of the work plan is for your most-important tasks. You can start filling in this row by looking down your UPCOMING DATES and DO NOW columns. If anything in those columns is due in the coming week, you may want to add a related task to the top row. For example, if you have a hearing on Wednesday, add a “hearing prep” MIT in the TUE box (this should also be in your DO NOW column for that matter).
Limit yourself to 2 or 3 MITs on most days. You should still feel pretty productive if you accomplish nothing but your MITs on a given day (along with all the fires you have to put out and the little things that come up during every work day).Take your work plan with you
I use a two-hole-punched manila folder for my work plan. That way, my work plan is a little protected (including from prying eyes), and I can fold it open and leave it on my desk. Whenever you learn of a deadline (a scheduling order arrives in the mail, for example), sit down and add the dates to your work plan. Do the same for any tasks that come up during the week. If something switches from a DO NOW task to a WAITING FOR task, scratch it out in the one column and move it to the other.
If you stay on top of your work plan, it will be a comprehensive, at-a-glance picture of your entire caseload. There’s no software I am aware of that can give you that kind of information. If you ever need someone to stand in for you in an emergency, all you need to do is hand them a copy of your work plan, scribbles and all. After a short orientation, they should be able to pick up right where you left off.Caveats
Okay, there are always caveats. I started out by saying that a paper work plan is “the ultimate case management software.” That’s true, but it obviously does not have all the features of full-fledged practice management software. For example, it will not handle your trust accounting. And if you try to manage more than one person’s caseload on a single work plan, it quickly becomes unwieldy and ineffective. But if you are managing your own caseload, and if it fits on a few pages, there is no better solution.
I don’t recommend that you give up your task manager and digital calendar, though. I would have a hard time getting by without Remember the Milk, especially for recurring tasks. And I definitely could not live without an online calendar synced up to my phone. Does this result in some duplication? You bet. But I’ve never regretted having to double- or triple-check my scheduling order deadlines. Keeping my paper work plan “synced” to my task manager and calendar is good redundancy.
You can easily do the same with practice management software. A paper work plan complements just about every productivity system. So whether you love your cloud-based practice management software or not, give paper work planning a try.
This article was originally published on July 30th, 2013. It was significantly updated and re-published on November 30, 2013.
The Ultimate Case Management System: a Paper Work Plan is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Conveying the meaning of laws to human beings is hard enough when you can use your own words. But sometimes the law itself dictates the exact language — including fonts, capitalization, boldface, and more — that you must use to convey its meaning.
The result is to obscure the meaning of laws, whether or not that’s what the lawmakers intended.The law looks terrible
Let’s take the all-too-common requirement that some piece of the law be displayed somewhere in ALL CAPS. This provision in a life insurance–related law in Minnesota requires insurers to provide a certain disclosure immediately above the signature line with the word WARNING in 14-point boldface capital letters. The remainder of the text must be in 10-point boldface capital letters. See Minn. Stat. 62B.04 subd. 2(b).
Here is what the disclaimer ends up looking like:
WARNING: IF YOU BECOME DISABLED AS DEFINED IN THE POLICY/CERTIFICATE, THIS DISABILITY INSURANCE POLICY/CERTIFICATE MAY NOT COVER YOUR ENTIRE INDEBTEDNESS. IF YOU BECOME DISABLED AT A POINT WHERE THE NUMBER OF MONTHLY INSTALLMENT PAYMENTS REMAINING EXCEEDS THE PERIOD OF COVERAGE BEING PROVIDED BY THIS POLICY/CERTIFICATE, THE BENEFITS AVAILABLE WILL BE LESS THAN THE AMOUNT NECESSARY TO PAY OFF YOUR LOAN. IF YOU WANT COVERAGE FOR THE FULL AMOUNT OF YOUR INDEBTEDNESS OR HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE EXTENT OR NATURE OF YOUR COVERAGE, YOU SHOULD DISCUSS THEM WITH YOUR AGENT AND/OR ENROLLER BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATION.
(Except probably in a terrible font like Times New Roman so it is even more squished together.)
What happened to you when you started reading that? I describe it as my brain starting to hum. It begins in the second line or so and drowns out any ability I have to read the thing. The hum stops only when I get to the end of the giant glob of text. And I am not alone.
Typographic studies reinforce the fact that reading all-caps text decreases your reading speed anywhere from 13 to 20%. Contracts, of course, are not works of art. There is little incentive to slow down rather than just skim or skip the all-caps text entirely.
Web readability discussions also help illuminate why our brain fails to comprehend the wall of ALL-CAPS text:
When we read, we don’t actually look at every letter in a sentence, but actually the shapes of the words. When text is in All Caps, the height of every letter is identical making every word an even rectangular shape, forcing us to read letter-by-letter, reducing our reading speed. Take a look at the shapes made by the two words below.
Similarly, typographer Matthew Butterick points out that making everything bold does not lead the reader to understanding that you want to place particular emphasis on the bolded text. If everything is emphasized, says Butterick, nothing is emphasized.
So both Butterick and the government tell you that using ALL CAPS or bold text for more than a few words actually slows your comprehension. This does not end up being a problem just for lawyers and briefs. That disclaimer is required — in exactly that format — in contracts a layperson is supposed to read, comprehend, and sign.
For a real glimpse at the underbelly of legal language gone horribly awry, take a look at franchise agreements. If you apply to be a franchisee for, say, Subway, you will be faced with a thicket of legalese that differs depending on what state you’re in. Here’s an example of the language and format required in Hawaii:
THESE FRANCHISES WILL BE/HAVE BEEN FILED UNDER THE FRANCHISE INVESTMENT LAW OF THE STATE OF HAWAII. FILING DOES NOT CONSTITUTE APPROVAL, RECOMMENDATION OR ENDORSEMENT BY THE DIRECTOR OF COMMERCE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS OR A FINDING BY THE DIRECTOR OF COMMERCE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS THAT THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HEREIN IS TRUE, COMPLETE AND NOT MISLEADING.
THE FRANCHISE INVESTMENT LAW MAKES IT UNLAWFUL TO OFFER OR SELL ANY FRANCHISE IN THIS STATE WITHOUT FIRST PROVIDING TO THE PROSPECTIVE FRANCHISEE, OR SUBFRANCHISOR, AT LEAST SEVEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE EXECUTION BY THE PROSPECTIVE FRANCHISEE OF ANY BINDING FRANCHISE OR OTHER AGREEMENT, OR AT LEAST SEVEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE PAYMENT OF ANY CONSIDERATION BY THE FRANCHISEE, OR SUBFRANCHISOR, WHICHEVER OCCURS FIRST, A COPY OF THE OFFERING CIRCULAR, TOGETHER WITH A COPY OF ALL PROPOSED AGREEMENTS RELATING TO THE SALE OF THE FRANCHISE.
THIS OFFERING CIRCULAR CONTAINS A SUMMARY ONLY OF CERTAIN MATERIAL PROVISIONS OF THE FRANCHISE AGREEMENT. THE CONTRACT OR AGREEMENT SHOULD BE REFERRED TO FOR A STATEMENT OF ALL RIGHTS, CONDITIONS, RESTRICTIONS AND OBLIGATIONS OF BOTH THE FRANCHISOR AND THE FRANCHISEE.
That is a veritable wall of words to say four simple things:
Worse, sometimes the contract contains an all-in-one state law attachment that includes law for states you are not actually in.
To make things even more difficult, much key information shows up on a computer screen — legalese and all. That makes perfect sense, but reading on a screen is slower — about 25% slower —than reading in paper. There is also evidence that we lose reading comprehension when we shift to the screen. It turns out that we often “map” where we see things on the printed page, and we lose that ability onscreen, which can lead to less understanding of the text. We also fail to re-read difficult sections when we read on a screen, so we don’t check out whether and how we are understanding the material. In short, we skim when things get difficult (probably unconsciously to get back up to our on-paper speed) which means we don’t necessarily take the time to absorb key information.
Nowhere is this more true than in the land of software and website terms and conditions. Apple’s iTunes Terms and Conditions is one of the most legendary, clocking in around 56 pages and being read by pretty much no one. The sheer length of everything that a company deems legally necessary to protect itself practically guarantees a consumer won’t read or comprehend it. Indeed, three years ago, 7,500 unwitting shoppers who didn’t read some terms and conditions agreed to give a British gaming company their immortal souls:
By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions.
In an odd twist, though the laws themselves contain a great deal of superfluous and deliberately difficult language that gets codified into required documents, notices, and signs, the government itself has made great strides in creating easy-to-follow explanations of key laws and rights. There are highly-readable posters for key laws like OSHA and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Those posters are the very epitome of readability, and follow many of the principles laid out by web usability gurus like Jakob Nielsen. The federal government also maintains a usability site with information on how to make websites easy to read and navigate. If only the government took its own advice with the first iteration of healthcare.gov, which Nielsen points out has at least ten usability failures. That’s an unfortunate stumble, but doesn’t change the fact that the government has actually been working hard to ensure, rather than obscure, understanding in some key areas.
All of this bad writing raises an interesting question: can we ever get out from under a law because it is just too terribly-written for us to understand? Can we have a cause of action based on, essentially, a void-for-vagueness argument that no one could rationally follow what the required language of the law actually meant?
There have already been numerous lawsuits about the Byzantine language of contract terms and conditions. Spoiler alert: the consumer almost always loses. Courts have even held that it doesn’t matter if you don’t click through and read the gazillion pages of conditions. Simply by being near them or performing certain actions like purchasing tickets will be enough for a court to presume you knew what you were getting into. These activities, though, are voluntary. You can decide not to download music from iTunes or buy tickets through Ticketmaster. (And really, don’t buy tickets through Ticketmaster if you can at all manage it anyway. Your pocketbook will thank you.) You can’t, however, decide to draft your franchise contract and omit the terrible government-mandated language. As a lawyer, you’d probably hesitate about even adding a section to that language that purported to explain it. Do you really want to be on the hook for saying you know what the government was trying to say? Do you want to end up in court arguing about which interpretation controls the contract — your explanation or the mandated language? Of course not.
Judges have found statutory language incomprehensible, however. On at least one occasion a judge declared that a longstanding finance-charge statute was unconstitutional because it was incomprehensible, even though the lender used the formula exactly as stated in the statute. This appeared, ultimately, to be only for show, as the charge was ultimately reinstated and upheld by the same judge, but it’s useful to take a look at the language he took issue with.
(1) The finance charge in a retail installment sale shall not exceed the following rates:
Class 1. Any new or used motor vehicle designated by the manufacturer by a year model not earlier than the year in which the sale is made–eleven dollars ($11) per one hundred dollars ($100).
Class 2. Any new motor vehicle not in class 1 and any used motor vehicle designated by the manufacturer by a year model of one (1) or two (2) years prior to the year in which the sale is made–thirteen dollars *680 ($13) per one hundred dollars ($100).
Class 3. All other motor vehicles not in class 1 or 2–fifteen dollars ($15) per one hundred dollars ($100).
(2) Such finance charge shall be computed on the principal balance as determined under KRS section 190.100(2) on contracts payable in successive monthly payments substantially equal in amount extending for a period of one (1) year. On contracts providing for installment payments extending for a period less than or greater than one (1) year, the finance charge shall be computed proportionately.
(3) When a retail installment contract provides for unequal or irregular installment payments, the finance charge shall be at the effective rate provided in subsection (1) of this section, having due regard for the schedule of payment.
(4) The finance charge allowed by this section may be pre-computed by using an add-on method. Alternatively, the seller may, at his option, compute the finance charge on a simple interest basis, at a fixed or variable rate, but in such case the amount of finance charge that the seller may collect shall not exceed the amount that could be collected if the finance charge were precomputed.
So. Any clue, if that was in your installment agreement, what your finance charge would be on a 1997 Mazda? Me either. And the judge couldn’t figure it out either. He ruled, sua sponte, that the statute was unconstitutional and void for vagueness, as it was not written “in language that the people upon whom it is designed to operate or whom it affects can understand” because it essentially required a borrower to apply an algebraic formula to determine the legality of the rate he or she was being charged.
Ultimately, all this bad legislative writing should be adding up to a cautionary tale for legislators and the public. Somewhere there is a lawsuit lurking that will invalidate something critical, something large, something that voids language that affects a ton of people. Perhaps that’s what legislators need to have happen in order to stop including incomprehensible-but-required provisions in the law.
How Laws Are Written So You Ignore the Important Parts is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
Organizing paperless client files is simple: organize digital client files exactly how you organized your files before you went paperless. Go with the “folder” analogy that your computer uses for organizing files, and use them just as you use your red ropes and manila folders.
Consider your “paper-full” workflow. You probably get a document in the mail, review it, then two-hole-punch it and add it to a manilla folder, which is put in a red rope “bucket file” and stored in your filing cabinet (or in a stack next to your desk). A paperless workflow is similar; but most of it happens on your computer. After you get a document in the mail, scan it and file it in a folder on your computer. That folder is similar to the manila folder, and it should be located within a folder for the client (the red rope) that is, in turn, stored in a Client Files folder (your filing cabinet).Client files folder structure
Here is an overview of how I organize my client files:
This is a screen capture from my actual client files archive, so I’ve blurred out the names of my clients, but you get the idea.
Instead of a filing cabinet, I have a folder called Client Files. Inside that folder are sub-folders (red ropes) for all of my client files. Each matter has the file number and client’s last name. You can use your /Client Files folder as a “tickler” for work planning meetings, if you are reasonably diligent about closing files.
Within my /Documents folder, I also have folders labeled Billing, Temporary, Closed Client Files, and Declined. (The Billing and Temporary folders are not shown in the image above, because it comes from my archive.) Here’s how I use each folder.
I also have a Client Files Archive folder in my Documents folder with a folder for each year. At the end of each year, I move all the inactive (closed and declined) files into an archive folder for that year. It helps keep my Client Files folder uncluttered, and makes it easy to delete archived client files on a ten-year schedule.Blank new folder template
I keep a blank new folder template handy for new files. Here is what it looks like:
It makes sense to stick your templates in your blank folder, as well. Put your letterhead and envelope templates in your Drafts folder, and a settlement negotiations spreadsheet in your Notes folder.File numbers
If you do not already have a file numbering scheme, try mine. I decided it was worthless to assign arbitrary numbers, and started using numbers that reflected the date the client signed a retainer. So if the client signed a retainer on August 3, 2013, the file number would be 130803. If multiple clients sign a retainer on the same day, just add a letter, like so: 130803a for the first, 130803b for the second, and so on. This makes it easy to tell, at a glance, how long a file has been open. That’s not information I need all the time, but it is more useful than consecutive numbering that says nothing at all about the file.File naming
File naming is also important. Generally, you would sort documents by the date of the document (not the date you scanned the document, which may be days — or years — later). To do this, start filenames with the date, year first: yyyy-mm-dd Filename.pdf. (You have to start with the year, or all your Januarys will end up next to one another. I prefer to separate the elements of the date with hyphens to make it easier to read the date when looking at a list of files.
One last thing. Do not store Word, WordPerfect, Pages, OpenOffice.org, etc., files in any folders other than Drafts or Notes. Those files are not copies of documents. They are malleable drafts that probably look slightly different on different computers, and can be easily edited. PDFs are documents (and PDF is the file format you should use).
The exception is when a client provides you with a digital document. In that case, store it in the format in which you received it in the Docs from Client folder, since that digital file is the actual document you were given.
This was originally published on October 20, 2010. It was significantly updated and re-published on November 25, 2013.
How to Organize Paperless Client Files is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.