For lawyers and anyone else who makes a living from words, the ability to type fast is an essential — not optional — skill. Unlike notetaking, which is better done by hand, one of the keys to writing well is eliminating any bottlenecks between your brain and the page. Until computers can read our thoughts, the best way to do this is touch typing.Transcription Fluency
Quality matters to lawyers. … So lawyers must learn to type fast.
The term transcription fluency describes the process of getting ideas out of your head and onto the page. With a pen or pencil, your transcription fluency is low. That is exactly why taking notes by hand works better than typing, but it is just the opposite when it comes to writing.
If you’re struggling to hunt-and-peck your way through writing an essay, you’re losing too much mental effort to the task of merely forming words.
That comes from tech journalist Clive Thomson, interpreting a 2007 research paper. In another study, Boston College grad student Michael Russell even proved that fast typing improves the quality of elementary-school students’ writing. While his results suggest that the faster the better, he guesses that being able to type about 20–24 words per minute is where the big leap in writing quality comes.
In other words, if quality matters, you need to be able to type, and the faster the better. Quality matters to lawyers. Or it ought to, at least. So lawyers must learn to type fast.Learning to Type Fast
RelatedLearn to type with Dance Mat Typing
In order to type fast, you need to be able to use all your fingers and type without looking at the screen. This is pretty easy to learn. Use a typing tutor to get started, and then practice. In very little time, muscle memory will take over and your fingers will start punching out your thoughts without you having to think about the keys you are pressing.
The best way to practice is just to write a lot, which should not post many problems for most lawyers. If you want extra practice, find more reasons to write. Spend some time arguing on the Internet, or start a blog about something you love.Dictation and Speech Recognition Software
If transcription fluency is the key to better writing, then dictation or speech recognition software should do the trick, too. But I don’t think traditional dictation using a tape recorder is a very good idea.
With speech recognition software, … you don’t have to employ a transcriptionist.
First, if you have to pay someone to transcribe your dictation, that is pretty inefficient, for you and for your clients, to the extent your overhead may be related to your fees.
Second, because dictating to a voice recorder requires you to “write” linearly. You basically have to start at the beginning and dictate through to the end. You can probably go section by section, but you cannot jump around much.
But writing is not naturally a linear process. There is a reason we talk about constructing an argument — because we do a little here, a little there, then back to the beginning, then look up some research, and so on. We take apart a sentence and put it back together. We take apart our logic and distribute it to different parts of the document.
As a result, a brief dictated to a voice recorder and transcribed is usually pretty easy to spot. They have a different quality than a brief that was actually written.
Speech recognition software is entirely different. Siri and Dragon NaturallySpeaking (or Dragon Dictate for Mac users) and Windows Speech Recognition are all good and getting better. With speech recognition software, you can still move around your document and write non-linearly. And you don’t have to employ a transcriptionist.
A couple of years ago, I broke my hand and could only hunt and peck with one finger on my left hand. Windows Speech Recognition and the Dragon iPad app got me through it. I prefer typing, but I could deal with speech recognition software if typing weren’t an option for me.Touch Typing Works on Tablets, Too
I don’t know why, but very few people seem to have experimented with touch typing on their tablets. Here’s the thing: even though there are no physical keys, you can absolutely touch type. If you practice a bit, your fingers will quickly memorize where they need to go.
The iPad has the advantage, here, by the way. Its touchscreen is more responsive than Android and Windows tablets, which makes it easier to touch type. You still can touch type on an Android or Windows tablet, but the slower screen will slow you down a bit, and you might make more mistakes.
Learning to type fast and getting comfortable with speech recognition software are complementary skills on any device. If you want to do your best work, you need to improve your transcription fluency, and fast typing is the best way to do it, with speech recognition software as a good alternative.
This was originally published on November 23, 2009. It was completely rewritten and republished on June 24, 2014.
Featured image: “Macro image of human hand with forefinger going to press key on keyboard” from Shutterstock.
88 wpm for me, although I am pretty sure I can type even faster when I am full of caffeine and ideas and in the zone. ↩
Each weekend, I round up the best law blog posts I have found during the previous week. You can help by sending me links using our contact form, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist. Or just tell me what I missed in the comments.Updates from the Lawyerist Sites Network
These posts come from the law blogs hosted by Lawyerist Sites.
Steve Baird does a great job highlighting the best coverage and summarizing the Washington, D.C., football team’s recent loss:
What I will say quite happily is that the decision is tight, focused, well-reasoned, and built to withstand the team’s promised appeal.
What I can’t explain is why the team continues to deny what has become so obvious to so many people: The R-Word must go.
[Duets Blog]Banning Laptops from the Classroom
When I was teaching in the moot court program at the University of Minnesota Law School, I did not allow my students to use laptops in class. It’s just the wrong way to take notes, especially when the subject matter is not factual. But this week, James Levy highlights an interesting post by New Yorker blogger Dan Rockmore and a response by Robert Talbert from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The gist: schools are still figuring out technology. Also you should take notes by hand, even if you are doing that — somehow — on your laptop. [Legal Skills Prof Blog]Hipsters Love Cops, Hate Plaintiffs
Elie Mystal breaks down a New York Post article about “jury gentrification” in Brooklyn:
It turns out that the upper middle class white people who now make up the majority of people who are able to afford rent in Brooklyn are much more “pro-police” than the borough’s more modest residents. And they’re also “anti-plaintiff,” which means if you slip-and-fall in their precious Whole Foods, civil juries are more likely to side with the huge conglomerate over the individual shopper with serious medical bills.
Let the record reflect that I was into justice before it sold out. [Above the Law: Redline]Is Your Website Responsive, Yet?
It better be. Kevin O’Keefe cites a study that says mobile traffic will make up 35% of all Internet traffic by the end of the year. Many websites and blogs already have higher mobile readership than that. If your site doesn’t work well on a phone, it’s time to fix that. (P.S., we can help.) [Real Lawyers Have Blogs]The Futures of Law
Joshua Lenon thinks all this talk about the future (singular) of law is misleading.
There is no one future for legal professionals. Each jurisdiction and practice area will have different outcomes. The future will be diverse and will arrive in fits and starts.
Can’t disagree with that. I’m less excited about Joshua’s prediction for the future of litigation: a lot more online dispute resolution. We got a pretty unsettling peek at that future last week [the Clio Blog]The ABA Wants Your Cocktail Recipes
The ABA was apparently planning a cocktail recipe book, although all references to it have been removed from its call for recipes. It looks like some of the commenters thought asking for cocktail recipes was inappropriate because alcoholism.
Well, I love cocktails, so here is my recipe:
Muddle a thin slice of orange, a sugar cube, and a splash of soda in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, 2 oz. of vanilla vodka, and 1/2 oz. of absinthe.1 Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.
So far, its name is “Orange Vanilla Absinthe Cocktail in Need of a Better Name.” I’m waiting for inspiration to strike. Even without a name, though, it’s damn tasty. [ABA Journal]
Featured image: “Welcome to Brooklyn sign at the Brooklyn bridge in New York” from Shutterstock.
If you want more booze, feel free to double these portions. ↩
Law Blog Week in Review: Hipsters Love Cops, Hate Plaintiffs, and Lawyers Share Cocktail Recipes 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.
Ten seconds is about how long you have to convince the average visitor to your law firm website to stick around. That is just about long enough to read one sentence — so it better be a good one.Visitors Make Snap Judgments
Microsoft Research recently published research showing that visitors to a web page tend to make a quick decision about whether to stay or go. If you want to know what a Weibull distribution is, read Jakob Nielsen’s analysis. If you just want the gist of the research, take a look at this graph:
Basically, visitors are most likely to leave during the first 10 seconds, but if a visitor sticks around for about 30 seconds, they are likely to stick around to read more. In other words, you have about 10 seconds to convince someone to keep reading or click over to another page on your website (which resets the stopwatch).Your Law Firm Website’s First 10 Seconds
Open the stopwatch on your phone and pull up your website. Don’t look at it yet, though. Pretend you are visiting your website for the first time — or better yet, find someone who has never visited your website and look over their shoulder. Start the stopwatch as soon as you open your eyes (or just hide your website under a blank browser tab until you are ready to start the stopwatch). At 10 seconds, stop, and make a note of how far you got.
Did you come across anything interesting enough to click on get you to keep reading during that 10 seconds?
If not, go to work on your website.The First Sentence
If many of the people who visit your law-firm website will decide to stay or go based on the first sentence, it had better be a good one. That is true whether the first sentence is a tagline, a text overlay on your header image, or the first sentence in a block of copy. And if your first sentence is so buried that it takes longer than 10 seconds to get to it, make sure that what visitors can see in 10 seconds is pretty awesome, or else redesign your website.
Copywriter Cari Twitchell points out that it is not just the first sentence on your website’s front page: “you never know where a client may land when they come to your website … the first sentence on every page matters.”
Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)
Here is an example:
I help small business owners
incorporate their businesses and protect their assets
so they can sleep better.
The Haiku of What You Do is a good approach because it answers one of the main things a potential client visiting your website for the first time probably wants to know: whether you can help them. Few law firm websites do a good job of answering this simple question. Instead, they tend to be all about how great the lawyer is and a list of practice areas.
The main thing to remember, says Cari, is that “your website isn’t about you — it’s about your prospective clients.” Keep that in mind when writing copy for it. Focus on helping visitors to your website figure out if you can help them. Don’t just write about yourself.Write Like a Normal Person
Lawyers have an unfortunate tendency to make everyday conversations sound like police reports. This is not particularly effective in any setting, but it is particularly bad when it comes to websites, where the goal is communication, not obfuscation.
[F]ind a sixth grader to read [your website] out loud.
For example, words commonly used to describe types of law practices, like boutique and virtual, are meaningless to most people. Irrelevant, too, for the most part. Stock law-firm-website phrases like innovative, compassionate, and aggressive are equally meaningless and irrelevant, as well as a bit cliche. And of course the most cliche of all is talking about how hard you will fight for your clients, which sounds more disingenuous the more strenuously you assert it.
To figure out if you are writing like a normal person, read your website copy out loud. Better yet, find a sixth grader to read it out loud. If he or she stumbles on any of the words or giggles when saying them, use different words. Or try reading it out loud yourself when you are exhausted and bleary-eyed after a long day. Because as Rocket X1′s Larry Port points out, your first sentence needs to be “abundantly clear to someone surfing the web half-asleep at 11 p.m.”Make Those 10 Seconds Count
No matter what you come up with, go back to the exercise above after you think you have got your first sentence just right. Now do you think you would click a link to another page on your website or keep reading? When you can confidently answer yes, you can call the job done.
To see whether it worked, keep an eye on your website’s bounce rate and time on site over the next month or so. If your new first sentence was an improvement, the bounce rate should go down1 or the time on site should go up, or both.
Featured image: “Man working at night lying down on sofa in the living room with tablet” from Shutterstock.
A lower bounce rate means fewer people left after viewing only one page on your site. ↩
Make Your Law-Firm Website’s First Sentence Count 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.
But there is a bit more to going paperless than that. You need to think about your paperless workflow.
In other words, how will you make sure you collect, scan, and file all the documents that come into your office? You may get things in the mail, by email, fax, or from other sources. You have to make sure you collect everything, scan everything, and until you scan it, keep things that have 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
Your 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 should be grounds for dismissal from the firm.
If you go paperless, you have to be confident that your digital file is complete. You need one complete copy of your file, and once you go paperless, it should be the digital one. The digital file is the useful copy, the one that will be backed up remotely and redundantly, and the one you will be working from every day. 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 inboxes, 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 you need to scan and file or otherwise deal with. 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 up something up from your 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 do not 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 do not 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 in the file-closing letter, 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 digital 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 folder in your digital archive, which you will delete in 10 years (or whatever your malpractice insurance carrier recommends).Take the Time to Design Your 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 your firm collects, scans, and files every document that comes into your office, or that you generate, or that otherwise materializes. The best way to do this is with a strict 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 rewritten and republished on December 4, 2013, then updated and republished on June 18, 2014.
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.
New research confirms what many of us have believed all along: taking notes by hand — with a pen and paper — is better than typing. Setting aside the potential for distraction (games), the act of taking notes on a computer actually interferes with your memory.Taking Notes by Hand Improves Retention
RelatedCornell Notes PDF Generator
According to Vox, psychologists Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer investigated the effectiveness of different styles of notetaking by having students watch a 15-minute TED talk while they took notes. A half hour later, they had to take a test on the material that included both factual and conceptual questions. Students who took notes by hand performed better than students who took notes on a laptop, no matter what Mueller and Oppenheimer tried.
It turns out that typing speed is a big part of the problem. When you have a keyboard, you have a very strong tendency to transcribe what you hear, even if you try not to. But when taking notes by hand, you have to (a) pay attention and (b) decide what is important.
Based on this study, at least, there is no question how lawyers should be taking notes: by hand.
Of course, one of the reasons for typing is so that you can take down more information that you can digest later. To control for that strategy, the researchers let some students review their notes before taking the test a week later. That did make a difference — for the students who took notes by hand. Laptop-notetakers actually performed worse when they had a chance to look at their notes.
They also tried instructing the laptop-notetakers to slow down and take notes in their own words. Even with those instructions, the students wrote down a lot more than the students who took notes by hand, and underperformed on the test as a result.
To sum up, the act of taking notes — by hand — matters.Lawyers Should Not Take Notes on Laptops
Here is the actual breakdown of the students’ performance on factual and conceptual questions:
As you can see, laptop users did pretty well on factual questions, relatively speaking, but they fell far short on conceptual questions, which involved comparing and analyzing ideas from the TED talk they watched.
Lawyers certainly need to be able to retain facts, but the application of those facts to the law is conceptual, using the researchers’ terminology. Based on this study, at least, there is no question how lawyers should be taking notes: by hand.Lawyers Should Take Notes by Hand
Lawyers take notes all the time, obviously, and it is probably a good thing that many still rely on the humble legal pad.
If you are paperless, it’s still a good idea to take notes by hand. Just toss them in your inbox and scan them when you get a chance. Or, if you want to get fancy, there are plenty of note-taking apps that let you use a stylus and your tablet instead of a pen and paper.
Now, Mueller and Oppenheimer did not test note taking on tablets. It is possible that the benefits of taking notes do not carry over from paper to tablets. But if you are taking notes by hand, it probably does not matter whether you are using a pen and legal pad or a stylus and iPad. If there is a problem, it would just be that taking notes on a tablet is actually a little slower than pen and paper.
Besides, typing is probably the least-effective way to get a transcript of a deposition or hearing. Use a voice recorder (or voice recording app), instead, or just get the transcript of the hearing. Then you will have the best of both worlds.1Laptops Are Bad for Client Relations
There is another reason — not in the study — why a pen and paper or stylus and iPad might be a better choice for client meetings, at least. Your laptop screen is a physical barrier between you and your client. And if you are looking at your laptop instead of at your client, it sends the message that you are not listening.
[W]hether or not you have a laptop in front of you, use a pen and paper or stylus and tablet for your note taking.
Instead, sit and listen actively to your client during meetings. Your relationships with your clients will be better for it, and you will probably ask better questions and do a better job remembering what they have told you. If you really need a verbatim transcript of client meetings, consider recording it, or have an associate play the role of court reporter.
If you regularly need to access court records, client files, or forms during client meetings, use an iPad or Android tablet instead of a laptop. A tablet is less intrusive and easier to share with your client. If you absolutely must use a laptop, keep your fingers off the keyboard unless you need to look something up, and talk to your client about what they are doing as you do it.
And whether or not you have a laptop in front of you, use a pen and paper or stylus and tablet for your note taking.
Featured image: “Hand of Japanese businessman taking notes” from Shutterstock.
Don’t try to record in court without asking permission, obviously. ↩
Lawyers Should Take Notes by Hand 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.
iOS apps for lawyers abound, whether for case management, billing, or trial preparation. This page has every legal app for iOS that we could find in the App Store.
There are just a few exceptions. This does not include apps that have not been updated since 2011 and have few or no reviews in the App Store. Apps that are simply mobile versions of a legal publication aren’t here, either, since the app doesn’t do anything over and above the website. Finally, the App Store is full of applications that simply repackage freely available content, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Unless an app added some significant extras (such as the ability to annotate or cross reference) to that type of content, it’s not here.
The table below is searchable, and you can sort by each column. Use the comments to let us know if we missed an app, and look for an Android app catalog in the near future.NameCostDescriptionMobile TranscriptFree, but requires registration.Allows for review of deposition and court transcripts. Ability to highlight testimony, log billable time, and email selected highlights.
Every Legal App for iPhone and iPad 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.
Each weekend, I round up the best law blog posts I have found during the previous week. You can help by sending me links using our contact form, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist. Or just tell me what I missed in the comments.“North American Legal Principles”
New online dispute resolution service eQuibbly promises that “Unlike in government courts, your case won’t be decided based on a technicality or a rule that doesn’t make sense.” Okay, so what rules will it use? I promise I’m not making this up:
Cases on eQuibbly are decided based on North American legal principles … not the technical laws of any one state or province. Examples of North American legal principles include: the right for private parties to enter into private contracts; a contract consists of voluntary promises between competent parties to do, or not to do, something, which the law will enforce; freedom of speech; equality before the law; separation of church and state, et cetera.
Et cetera it actually says. I’ll just let Scott Greenfield handle this. [Simple Justice]The Ethical Implications of Clearspire’s Failure
Carolyn Elefant writes about the ethical fallout from Clearspire’s fall/pivot:
From an ethics perspective – if that actually matters – Clearspire also flunks. When a law firm acts as a laboratory, that means it’s also using the firm’s clients as guinea pigs.
Maybe Clearspire’s corporate clients were sufficiently sophisticated to give informed consent to being guinea pigs, but whatever happened at Clearspire does demonstrate that, when it comes to legal startups, failure means a lot more than it does for your average Kickstarter project. [My Shingle]One Thing You Should Know Before Hanging Out Your Shingle
Lee Rosen’s “6 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Hung Out My Shingle” is worth reading just for the first thing on his list:
Hiring help doesn’t always increase your take-home pay. In fact, all too often, it decreases your share of the money. I meet way too many lawyers who are working way too hard to support their team rather than themselves.
[Divorce Discourse]Word v. WordPerfect
At Above the Law, Jeff Bennion tackles the somehow-still-happening debate about Word v. WordPerfect. He points out that “There is nothing that you can put on a page using WordPerfect that you cannot also put on the page in the same place with Word.”
Except that’s also a pretty good reason to just go ahead and use whatever the heck you want. However, Bennion attempts to point out, and as Barron Henley pointed out the other days, if you don’t like using Word, there is a good chance you probably don’t know how to use it very well. [Above the Law]Losing Legal Jobs
In April and May, reports James Levy, the legal sector has lost about 2,800 jobs, and legal jobs are at the lowest point since the beginning of the year. I thought we were supposed to be heading for a legal job surplus, not a (downward) market adjustment. [Legal Skills Prof Blog]
Featured image: “Strict verdict” from Shutterstock.
Law Blog Week in Review: “North American Legal Principles,” Clearspire’s Clients, and Word v. WordPerfect 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.
When lawmakers dictate exact language like this, they may actually be discouraging people from reading that language.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.
[A]ll-caps text decreases your reading speed anywhere from 13 to 20%.
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.
What happened to you when you started reading that? When I try, my brain starts “humming” around the second line or so, which 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.
I am not alone in this reaction. Typographic studies reinforce the fact that all-caps text decreases your reading speed anywhere from 13 to 20%. Contracts, of course, are not fine literature. Rather than slow down and read carefully, many will just skim without comprehension or skip the all-caps blocks of 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 putting blocks of text in boldface does not generally have the intended effect of getting the reader to focus harder on it. If everything is emphasized, says Butterick, nothing is emphasized (and much may be ignored).
So both Butterick and even the government think 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 horrible disclaimer above 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 laws of states you are not actually in.
There is also evidence that we comprehend less when we shift to the screen.
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 comprehend less 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 when reading on a screen. That can lead to reduced comprehension. We are also less likely to re-read difficult sections when we read on a screen. In short, we skim or skip when the text get difficult (probably unconsciously, to get back up to our on-paper speed) and that means we may not 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 almost no one reads it. The sheer length of everything that a company deems legally necessary to protect itself practically guarantees a consumer will not read or comprehend it. Indeed, three years ago, 7,500 unwitting shoppers who did not 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 its own 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 is an unfortunate stumble, but the government has actually been working hard to ensure, rather than obscure, understanding in some key areas.A Defense of Bad Typography?
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?
Spoiler alert: the consumer almost always loses.
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 does not matter if you do not 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 cannot, however, decide to draft your franchise contract and omit the terrible government-mandated language. As a lawyer, you would 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. In the end, this was just for show. 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 what your finance charge would be on a 1997 Mazda? Me either. And the judge could not figure it out either. He ruled, sua sponte, that the statute was unconstitutional and void for vagueness because 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 is just what legislators need to have happen in order to stop including incomprehensible-but-required provisions in the law.
This was originally published on November 25, 2013. It was revised and republished on June 13, 2014.
Featured image: “Businessman studying a contract to sign closely with binoculars ” from Shutterstock.
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.
This was originally published as “Life After Meth” in the June 2014 issue of the Washington State Bar Association’s NWLawyer. It is republished with permission on Lawyerist.
From the very first time I tried meth, I loved it. Nothing had ever made me feel as happy or alive or confident as meth did.
In the summer of 1997 at the age of 35, I fell in love. That relationship exposed me to many new things. Unfortunately, one of them was methamphetamine.
I didn’t know a lot about meth the first time I tried it. It wasn’t a common drug where I was from. I knew it was a stimulant and I knew it was illegal. And although I had been employed as a prosecutor in New York City and Seattle for the preceding nine years, I had always been a vocal opponent of the “War on Drugs” and refused to handle drug cases because of it. That left a dangerous void in my knowledge of meth.
From the very first time I tried meth, I loved it. Nothing had ever made me feel as happy or alive or confident as meth did. That’s because no natural experience can make your brain produce dopamine like meth can. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you experience pleasure. Normally there are about 100 units of dopamine in the pleasure centers of your brain; when you have sex, those levels double up to around 200 units. Cocaine can make your dopamine levels go up to 350 units and keep them there for over an hour. That’s why cocaine is so addictive. But when you use meth, your dopamine levels shoot up to 1,250 units and you stay high for up to 12 hours. At the same time your dopamine levels are spiking, meth is also reducing blood flow to your frontal lobes, hobbling that section of your brain that helps you make good and responsible decisions. It’s a dangerous combination — a perfect storm of addiction.Barreling towards addiction
By the third time I tried meth, I knew I wasn’t going to stop, and soon what started as a weekend ritual of getting high quickly snowballed into extended periods of use followed by debilitating periods of withdrawal. Meth withdrawal can leave you feeling impossibly weak, apathetic, and depressed, sometimes for days. You eat and sleep uncontrollably and sometimes experience crying jags or bouts of paranoia for no reason. It can make you feel like you’re losing your mind.
Many people believe it’s easy to figure out when someone is using meth by their violent or erratic behavior, but that’s a myth.
By December 1997, I couldn’t take it anymore. I became an addicted, daily subsistence user just to avoid withdrawal. Suddenly, for the first time in my career, I started showing up late to work. I couldn’t stay organized anymore. I was losing my temper for no reason and being really rude to some of the defense attorneys.
Many people believe it’s easy to figure out when someone is using meth by their violent or erratic behavior, but that’s a myth. Like any drug, individual responses to meth vary widely. Just as some alcoholics can maintain the appearance of sobriety with relatively high blood-alcohol levels, many meth addicts can do the same with meth. In many ways, my meth-influenced behavior was not unlike the behavior of many trial attorneys who are short-tempered and stressed out, and for the most part it went unnoticed.
Being a prosecutor certainly made my addiction much more complicated. I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and hypocrisy. And although I knew I desperately needed help, I had no idea where I could get it without losing my job.
And I really didn’t want to lose my job. I loved being a trial attorney and a victims’ advocate. After graduating from Duke Law in 1988, I started my career in the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office, where I focused on prosecuting sex crimes. Three years later, I took a job as a trial attorney and supervisor in the Special Victims Bureau in the Queens D.A.’s Office. Then in 1995, I moved to Seattle to work for Norm Maleng as a King County deputy prosecutor.
Being a prosecutor was all I had ever done. I was also really good at it. In nine years of trying cases back-to-back, I rarely lost. Trial work felt completely natural to me — like the thing I was born to do.Caught at the courthouse
That all ended one day in March 1998, three months into my addiction, when a security guard at the King County Courthouse asked me to open my briefcase, which had just gone through the X?ray machine. It was a common request; I frequently had my briefcase searched when entering the courthouse. Only this time, inside, there was an Altoids tin containing drugs and drug paraphernalia — I recognized the Altoids tin. It belonged to me and my significant other. But I had no idea why it was in my briefcase, where it would so obviously be found by security.
In an instant, I saw my life crumble before my eyes. I was about to lose everything: my job, my friends, and my reputation. I denied the drugs were mine, but I knew it didn’t matter. The damage was done. A few days later, I resigned my job and a special prosecutor was appointed to handle the investigation.
When word went out among the meth addicts in Seattle … , they quickly became my client base and my friends. They almost never had money, but they almost always had meth.
As I saw it, I had two choices at that point: 1) stop using meth and face reality, or 2) keep using a drug that made me insanely happy, no matter how bad my life became. I knew if I kept using meth there was a good chance it would eventually kill me, but that was no longer a reason not to use it. My life already felt like it was over. I wanted it to be over.
But I had a different problem now. Snorting meth no longer put enough of the drug into my bloodstream to make its magic work. I needed to get a lot more in me, a lot faster. So I started injecting it. At $25 a shot, that was expensive, and within a few weeks, I was completely broke. Not surprisingly, that’s also when my relationship ended. Once my significant other was gone, I felt completely lost.
All my former friends were prosecutors who couldn’t have any contact with me. All I had left was meth. However, I was still an experienced criminal attorney — one who now knew dozens of meth addicts, most of whom desperately needed representation from a lawyer they could trust. You’re probably thinking, “You were still able to practice? Didn’t the Washington Supreme Court suspend you?” No, they didn’t. Because I had yet to be charged with any crime.
When word went out among the meth addicts in Seattle that I was going to start practicing criminal law again, they quickly became my client base and my friends. They almost never had money, but they almost always had meth. My addiction found a way to survive.
Propped up by the chemically induced confidence of meth, I walked back into the King County Courthouse in May 1998, three months after resigning my job, and started my career as a criminal defense attorney. Much to my surprise, I loved it, just as much as I loved being a prosecutor. That’s when I realized I might still have a future. I wanted to live, but only if I could stop using meth.The public learns my name
Even though I was now no longer facing potential drug charges, my life kept getting worse and worse. That’s when I finally gave up trying to save myself.
So I made a plan: I’d save up enough money to pay for rehab and get my mortgage current, then block out enough time in my schedule to go. It may not have been realistic, but it was a huge improvement over my earlier plan of just using meth until it killed me. Unfortunately, my plan got interrupted when the special prosecutor handling the courthouse incident decided not to charge me with drug possession. His decision provoked an angry backlash of editorials and newspaper articles claiming preferential treatment by one prosecutor for another — editorials and articles that named me publicly for the first time as the person involved. I’m not sure why I wasn’t charged; in retrospect, I really wish I had been. If I had, my case would likely have gone to Drug Court, where I would have gotten the kind of life-saving intervention I desperately needed.
That burst of publicity quickly scared off all my paying clients. No one wanted to hire me. Soon I started getting notices from my mortgage lender threatening me with foreclosure, and then my phone and utilities were turned off. Even though I was now no longer facing potential drug charges, my life kept getting worse and worse. That’s when I finally gave up trying to save myself.
About a month later, in December 1998, a year into my addiction, my ex started calling me again. He said he needed my help getting some meth for a friend of his. He told me if I could finance the deal, we could split the profit. It didn’t take a lot of convincing at that point: I could no longer see any future, and like most meth addicts, it wasn’t the first time I had done something like this. My ex set up the initial meeting and I obtained the drugs. Over the course of the next two months, I sold drugs to his friend three times.
On Feb. 16, 1999, the fourth time I was supposed to sell his friend drugs, the friend showed up at my house with a SWAT team, a battering ram, and a KOMO 4 News team to film my arrest live on television. It turned out the “friend” was an undercover cop and my ex was making money setting me up for the police.
Well, that was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. It was the only intervention I was ever going to get, and it started the chain reaction of events that eventually saved my life. Only it didn’t happen quickly. After my arrest, I used my knowledge of the criminal justice system to stall my trial for over a year and a half. I still had my license to practice law, but it was almost impossible for me to concentrate on the little bit of work I had. It was during this time between my arrest and my trial that I made my first serious attempt at drug rehab.Rehab and picking up where you left off
There are two basic schools of drug recovery programs. One is the 12-step approach, which uses a person’s faith in God, or a “higher power,” to help recover from addiction. The other approach is based on cognitive behavioral therapy — a school of psychology that employs a variety of techniques to help a person understand their addictive behavior and quit using. My first rehab was based exclusively on the 12-step model. I’m a huge fan of the 12-step program; I’ve seen it help a lot of people, and I have witnessed firsthand the amazing power of faith.
With chronic meth use, you reach a point where the drug no longer makes you feel good
But I am also a lifelong atheist. So “faith” just isn’t one of the tools in my toolbox. At rehab, I openly questioned the appropriateness — for me — of a “faith-based” or “spiritual” recovery program. After 10 days of arguing, I was told by the facility director that I was in the wrong place and that I needed to leave. I returned to Seattle and stayed clean for a few months, but by late autumn of 1999, I relapsed with a vengeance. It was during that first major relapse that I learned the truth of one of many valuable sayings taught to me by the 12-step program: “You pick up where you left off.” What does that mean? That means when you’re dealing with addiction, and you stop using your drug of choice for a while, then relapse, you don’t get to go back to the feelings you had during the first few fun times you used. The drug won’t do that neat little trick for you anymore. Instead, you go right back to the crappy feelings you had just before you quit.
With chronic meth use, you reach a point where the drug no longer makes you feel good, because you have literally worked the dopamine-producing cells in your brain to death. They’re gone. The meth still gives you an adrenaline rush, but now the drug starts to make you crazy — paranoid, delusional, or severely A.D.D. But you know that if you stop using meth, you’ll become incredibly weak and depressed. So every day you use, you’re choosing between being crazy and being depressed.
When I relapsed, I became really angry, distracted, and convinced everyone was out to get me. My law practice was in shambles. It was impossible for me to be an effective advocate when I couldn’t even predict when I’d be awake. Even with planning, alarm clocks, and the best of intentions, I missed court dates and important appointments because I had stayed awake for too many days, run out of meth, and fallen unconscious. The judges and prosecutors were completely fed up with my behavior — and with good reason. It was obvious to everyone I had relapsed and that I should no longer be practicing law.
I continued to use meth right through my trial in July of 2000. I wasn’t surprised when I got convicted. I expected it. That’s when the Washington Supreme Court finally disbarred me.
Even after my conviction, I managed to stay out of custody while my case was on appeal. I was homeless at that point and living on the couches of other drug addicts all over Seattle. That’s when I finally hit my rock bottom. I knew that, compared to where I was at that moment, prison was going to be a step up for me — at least in prison I’d have a bed, clean clothes, and regular meals. Only I was determined not to go to prison addicted. So I made a new plan to get clean — a much more realistic plan.
I got myself into a state-funded rehab (this time based on the cognitive behavioral therapy model of recovery), moved into clean and sober housing, and found work as a housekeeper at a Victorian bed and breakfast on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. The owners of the B&B were a woman and her elderly mother who had followed my story in the newspapers, felt sorry for me, and miraculously agreed not only to be my employers but also my surrogate family as I struggled through the first years of my recovery. They were difficult years. I gained 50 pounds. I was often severely depressed. My brain still didn’t function well. The cravings for meth were intense. But at least I had some income, a job with lots of leftovers to eat, and the love and support of those two women who owned the B&B. I knew they genuinely wanted to see me succeed and it made all the difference. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it.Serving time
After successfully completing six months of rehab and staying meth-free for over a year, I knew what had to happen next. In August 2002, I withdrew my case from the Washington State Court of Appeals, and on Sept. 22, I turned myself in to the Department of Corrections to start serving my sentence.
My situation in prison was precarious. After all, I was an openly gay former prosecutor forced to serve my time in the same jurisdiction where I had spent years putting violent felons behind bars. Most of that time I went unrecognized, and I was fine. But there were times when I was recognized by men I had prosecuted for serious violent offenses, and things got dangerous quickly. As a result, I spent more than two months locked up in solitary confinement for my own protection, in a 9 x 6 foot cell with bright fluorescent lights that could never be turned off. There were many days when I thought I would lose my mind.
Despite that, I will always value the time I spent in prison, the vast majority of which was really helpful. In prison, I was safe from temptation during the early fragile years of my recovery. I could never have afforded the two-year inpatient drug rehab I needed. Prison served that role in my life. In prison, I met hundreds of men whose lives had been destroyed by drugs, especially meth. For many of them, the drug had taken their teeth, destroyed their skin, and left them with horrible burns from meth lab accidents. Some had lost their minds.
In prison, I learned that this was the insanity I had helped foster when I got involved with meth, and this is what I would become if I went back to using it. It was a life-changing lesson and an amazing gift. And although I will always do everything I can to keep my clients out of prison, I genuinely feel I was lucky to go … and even luckier to have lived through it.
It was also from prison that I started writing letters to everyone I knew. That’s how I finally reconnected with family and friends. When their letters came flooding back in, I realized I was no longer alone in my struggle, and I began to believe that if I could stay clean, I just might be able to get my life back.Gaining hope
The Washington Supreme Court doesn’t allow disbarred attorneys to work as paralegals in Washington, but other states don’t have that rule. So after my release from prison on Sept. 12, 2004, I moved my parole from Seattle to Wilmington, North Carolina, where I reunited with my family and got a job in a civil litigation firm as a paralegal and office manager. I worked there for the next eight years.
During those eight years, I got involved with the North Carolina State Bar’s lawyers assistance program (or LAP, as it’s called). LAP trained me to be a volunteer and let me serve as a mentor, monitor, and recovery coach for other drug-addicted lawyers. LAP also got me speaking at CLEs, high schools, and community groups about meth addiction and recovery.
It was in those meetings that I learned just how much shame I was still carrying around with me about the things I had done to other people while using meth …
It was through LAP that I started going to lunches for lawyers in recovery. The lunches were like 12-step meetings just for attorneys. I went reluctantly at first, but after going for a while I came to understand why 12-steppers are so passionate about their program. It was in those meetings that I learned just how much shame I was still carrying around with me about the things I had done to other people while using meth — things like worrying my family and friends, embarrassing my co-workers, disappointing my clients, and worst of all, enabling the addictions of other addicts. Those lunch meetings gave me a safe place to talk about my guilt and remorse and the lawyers there helped me find a way to live with those feelings. I had recovered from meth addiction long before I ever went to my first LAP-lawyer-lunch, but it was the things that happened to me at those meetings that finally made me feel like I was healed.
It turns out you don’t really need “faith” to benefit from a 12-step meeting. All you really need to do is talk and listen. And it was also at those lunches that the other lawyers convinced me to try and get my law license back in Washington. I knew with four felony convictions the chances were slim, but they had faith I could pull it off.Reinstatement
Recovery from meth is not impossible or uncommon.
It took me almost a year to get ready for my hearing before the WSBA Character and Fitness Board in 2009. I was still a total control freak about all things resembling trials. I represented myself. The hearing lasted over seven hours. After a lot of testimony, a lot of argument, and quite a bit of deliberation, the Board voted to reinstate me.
After retaking the bar exam, I was officially reinstated as a lawyer in Washington in June 2010. Although my original plan was to then get admitted to the bar in North Carolina, part of me never gave up on the idea of moving back to Seattle. As fate would have it, after 12 years of being single, I ended up getting married just a few months before Washington passed marriage equality by popular vote. I took that as a sign. So a year ago in June, my husband and I packed the car and headed west.
I’ll always miss North Carolina, but Seattle feels like home. It feels like where I belong. And it feels like the place where my personal history and skill set can do the most good for other people struggling with addiction. But I realize I can’t be a proper role model for recovery if the people who need me most can’t see me. So I make sure I’m visible to them by representing them and telling them my story. Not surprisingly, many of my criminal and family law cases involve issues of addiction.
Recovery from meth is not impossible or uncommon. In my experience, it often takes a lot of external support to get through those first crucial years of recovery. The reason my addiction blew up in such a spectacular way had a lot to do with how isolated I became from my sober family and friends, and even more to do with my false belief that recovery from meth addiction was not possible. People have recovered from meth addiction, but the stigma makes it very hard to identify themselves publicly. If recovered meth addicts don’t start coming out of the shadows and showing their recovery to the world, the lie that you can’t recover from meth addiction will continue and be a huge obstacle for those trying to quit.Getting help
If you have a problem with addiction, the WSBA Lawyers Assistance Program is ready to provide confidential help. You can meet with a LAP counselor personally, or LAP can set you up with a peer counselor (a fellow attorney) who can speak to you about your options. Best of all, anything you tell your peer counselor is confidential pursuant to APR 19(b)(2). Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to accept help when it’s offered.
But what if the problem isn’t with you? What if someone you care about or work with is struggling with addiction? What can you do to help? Those are really difficult situations, often complicated by a host of other issues. All I can say for certain is that it’s important that you don’t enable them. Don’t give them opportunities, or excuses, or resources that make it easier for them to continue using. But don’t give up on them, either. Don’t stop caring about them. Tell them their substance abuse is scaring you. Tell them you want them to stop. And remind them that when they’re ready to stop, you’ll still be there for them, because you care about them.
It can make all the difference.
Featured image: “Hand with pen drawing the chemical formula of methamphetamine” from Shutterstock.
A monitor … is far more important than your computer’s processor’s clock speed.
Most people focus on the CPU — the box that sits on or under your desk — when buying a computer. You will find regularly-updated buying guides full of specs for processor speed, memory, storage, etc., just about everywhere. But most CPUs will handle a lawyer’s basic computing needs. Specs are not what make for a good computing experience. A monitor, for example, is far more important than your computer’s processor’s clock speed.
I used to work in an outdoor store selling canoes and kayaks. Customers regularly came in planning to buy a $2,000 kevlar kayak, then went straight to the cheap paddles and PFDs (life jackets, if you prefer). But it makes much more sense to buy a $500 paddle, a high-end PDF, and a cheap kayak than it does to buy a $2,000 kayak, a $50 paddle, and a $20 PFD. The paddle will be in constant motion, and your PFD will be shifting with every movement. Cheap products mean slower progress, fatigue, sore wrists, and chafing.
Similarly, you will spend nearly all your time staring at your computer’s monitor, not pushing its CPU to the limit. You can run Microsoft Word and whatever else you use to manage your practice on a five-year-old laptop (at least). But a fuzzy picture, poor contrast, and limited adjustment will ruin your eyesight and contort your spine. Get a good monitor and cut costs on the CPU, if you have to.
So what makes a good monitor?Adjustability
A good monitor should be adjustable. When you place the screen about arm’s length away from you, the top should be at or slightly below your eye level, according to Ergotron (unless you use bifocals, in which case you should lower the monitor and tilt it back 30° to 45°). You should not need to tilt your monitor up and down, except maybe to reduce the glare from ceiling lights.
Many cheap monitors have stands that tilt, but few raise up and down. If your monitor’s stand does not let you raise and lower the screen, you will either have to be a perfect fit for it, or you will need to dig out your law school textbooks and stack them up under your monitor to adjust the height.
That does not mean you have to avoid inexpensive monitors. You can always get an aftermarket stand (Ergotron makes excellent ones), but you will generally save money overall by just getting a good monitor with an adjustable stand in the first place.Size and Pixel DensitySize Matters
At a minimum, for legal work, your monitor should be able to display two full-width pages, side-by-side. The smallest size that works for this is about 22”. (Go ahead and take two 8.5” x 11” sheets of paper to the store and check my measurements.) However, more than two sheets of paper actually need to fit on the screen. There are sliders, window chrome, and all those buttons and task bars. Plus, room for margins makes everything easier to read. It’s nice to get an extra inch or two so that your margins are not too cramped by menus and scrollbars. After using several monitors 21.5” and up, I have found 24” to be about right.
Larger monitors do not really let you fit more than two pages. The aspect ratio is wrong. It would take a really wide (and relatively short) monitor to fit three pages. Although at around 30”, you can fit 6 pages at once, if you do not mind squinting a bit.
Some lawyers prefer to flip their monitors 90° to match the orientation of the page. This is a great idea, and it works best with multiple monitors. If you do this, 22”–24” is still about right.Pixel Density Matters More
Consider these three monitors, all of which have the exact-same resolution:
PPI means “pixels per inch,” a measure of the size of the pixels. The smaller the pixels, the better everything will look — especially text.
I spent about a week with that 27” HP EliteDisplay, and my eyes were very happy to go back to my 24” Dell UltraSharp U2412M with its noticeably-better 94.34 PPI. And while my Dell is good, it is nowhere near as good as the 27” Apple Thunderbolt Display or the 27” Dell UltraSharp U2713HM, both of which have an awesome 108.79 PPI (I think they actually use the same screen component).
(All pixel densities calculated using the Pixel Density Calculator. Go ahead and use it yourself if you are shopping for a monitor.)
I’m pretty sure big pixels are one of the main reasons people do not prefer to read on a screen. When you ratchet up the pixel density, reading on a screen becomes tolerable, at worst. On higher-end monitors like the 27” Apple or Dell, it’s downright pleasant.Multiple Monitors
There are good reasons to consider a second — or third or fourth — monitor. There are also some bad reasons to have extra screens.
In fact, at least one study found that a single 24” monitor was more productive than multiple (or larger) monitors.
Let’s dispense with the bad, first. It is tempting to use an extra monitor as a “dashboard” for your email and calendar (Outlook), or your social media, or whatever it is you think you might want to have visible at all times. This is a bad idea. There is no such thing as multitasking and all you will accomplish by keeping so many things visible at once is to distract yourself. In fact, at least one study found that a single 24” monitor was more productive than multiple (or larger) monitors.
If you can use your extra screens to help you work more effectively on one thing at a time, though, go for it. For example, it is harder to spread out more than one document if they are on your computer. If you can put two pages side-by-side on one monitor, you can put three or four together on two monitors — and so on. Or you can flip a monitor 90 degrees to see more of the document you are drafting or reading, or to zoom in and still see the whole page.
So, despite that study, if you are paperless and you frequently need to look at more than two pages at the same time, get a second monitor.
And if you are going to get multiple monitors, match them. Get two or three or four of the same one, instead of mixing and matching. Even small differences in pixel size will make the lower-density monitor look fuzzy. If you have ever plugged your laptop into an external monitor, you know what I mean. Most laptops have pixel densities that exceed all but the best desktop monitors, and it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the non-primary monitor. If you are trying to quickly look back and forth between two monitors, it is easier (and therefore more efficient) if they match.
If you decide to get two or more monitors, you probably don’t need to go as large as if you only have one, but you certainly can. Stick to a minimum of 22”, but go ahead and get two great big 27” monitors, if you want to and you have the money.What to Buy
I still think the 24” Dell UltraSharp U2412M is the best overall bang for the buck. I recommend it over the 23” HP ZR2330w, even though the HP has higher pixel density, because the Dell is taller in relation to its width. That means you can fit more lines of text on the screen on the Dell, which is better for working on documents.
My recommendation is the same if you are going to buy more than one, or if you want to flip it on its side. (That said, you definitely will not be disappointed with the HP if you decide to save some money; it is still a great choice.)
If you want a bigger screen, get the 27” Dell U2713HM (or the 27” Apple Thunderbolt Display if you are a Mac user). You’ll spend a lot more — you could get almost three 23” or 24” monitors for the price of one 27” monitor — but if you prefer to have just one screen, or if you want the best monitor(s) for all-day computing, you cannot beat these two.
This was originally published on October 3, 2013. It was updated, revised, and republished on June 11, 2014.
The Best Computer Monitor Setup 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.
It is the rare individual that isn’t locked in some sort of love-hate relationship with Microsoft Word. Its ubiquity and feature set have made it the default for document creation just about everywhere everywhere, so chances are you’ve used it extensively and feel pretty comfortable navigating it. Many people you send a document to will have Word, and their documents will play nicely with your documents. That’s the love-ish part.
The hate comes in at any number of places. Maybe you hate the price you’ll pay to get Microsoft Office at home. Maybe you hate the fact that they switched to that ribbon interface a couple iterations ago. Maybe you’ve never gotten over the trauma that was Clippy.
Maybe you’re browsing Microsoft alternatives because you’re philosophically committed to using open source software. Maybe you just really really hate Microsoft as a company. No matter the reason, really. If you’re just looking around, kicking some tires to see what might work for you, here are some alternatives.
A note on my completely not-at-all rigorous testing mechanism: for each Word alternative, I stuffed a heavily formatted legal document — headers, bullet points, footnotes, signature blocks, you name it — into the program to see if it would play nice with an existing Word document. After that, I moved text around, redlined, and commented all over the thing. I also moved documents back and forth between programs with and without edits to see how things behave in Word after they’re created or altered in another program. After that, I did a feature check for things small-firm lawyers often need to handle solo, like mail merges and envelopes.
There are a couple notable programs missing from this list. First, the open source program AbiWord is still beloved, it appears, but hasn’t been updated in forever. It might be a useful choice for a really old system that needs something super-lightweight to work, but for a typical office computer, it will just be too clunky to even get installed. (I couldn’t install it on my Mac at all, as it hasn’t been updated since Macs were PowerPCs inside). You also won’t see WordPerfect, because that’s a program you need to purchase and because honestly, if you are still wedded to WordPerfect after all these years, you probably can’t be dissuaded at this point.
All that said, let’s do this.
Five Alternatives To Fighting With Microsoft Word 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.
Each weekend, I round up the best law blog posts I have found during the previous week. You can help by sending me links using our contact form, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist. Or just tell me what I missed in the comments.Highlights from the Lawyerist Sites Network
These posts come from the law blogs hosted by Lawyerist Sites.
A blogger going by Florida Esq. has been documenting his experiences starting a law firm, first on Reddit, then on Associates Mind. Lawyers are always eager to make themselves look successful, so I always like seeing real numbers. It’s helpful perspective when you are trying to figure out how your own firm is doing.
ReplyAll’s Zach Abramowitz spent the week having a slow-moving conversation with legal novelist John Grisham. They covered Grisham’s miserableness as a lawyer, fee-gouging and padding at BigLaw, the legal system, and more. (Aside: This is my first encounter with ReplyAll, and I’m not impressed with the user experience. It’s claustrophobic.) [Above the Law]How to Prepare for the Future of Law
On Thursday, in the Lab, I started what’s turned into a great discussion about how new lawyers should be preparing for the future of law practice. On Friday, Carolyn Elefant wrote a post asking the same question for “seasoned” lawyers, including her own two cents on what lawyers ought to be doing. [My Shingle]Careful What You Ask For
One lawyer refused to cooperate with an ethics investigation in New York, saying “I will not be filing an answer to the complaint or otherwise participate; in this investigation … So go ahead and disbar me for failure to cooperate.” So he was suspended. (I really think he should have been disbarred, though, since that was his request.) [Legal Profession Blog]
Featured image: “Working young man and dollars rain” from Shutterstock.
Law Blog Week in Review: Real Solo Numbers, Smashing Up a Gym, and the Future! of Law 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.
Since state bar disciplinary authorities do not always issue statistics on ethics violations, I am hesitant to proclaim this a list of the most-common reasons lawyers find themselves in ethical trouble. But the following rules are definitely among the most commonly violated.1. Rule 1.1 — Competence
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. [ABA Model Rule 1.1]
The very first rule, adopted in some form in every state, seems simple enough: we must represent our clients competently. The trouble is, just about any time a client complains about our substantive work, a charge of failing to perform with competence becomes likely. Even if you truly did act appropriately, you might get accused of incompetence.
One reason failure to perform with competence is overcharged is that state bar prosecutors often fail to understand the private practice of law. For example, I know an attorney who negotiated for months with the opposing party before ultimately filing the client’s lawsuit, as all the pre-filing negotiation was geared toward settling the matter without resorting to litigation. The state bar threatened a charge of failure to perform with competence because the case was not immediately filed.
On the other hand, a charge of failure to perform with competence can merit. Recently I observed an attorney come to court an hour late for a trial. When he did arrive, he knew nothing about the case he was supposed to try. If his client had actually been there to see him, that client could well have lodged a complaint with the state bar, and a failure to perform with competence charge would have been appropriate.
Keep in mind the duty to perform competently — and all of its component parts. It not only means you must know your area of law, but also that you must prepare for each and every thing you do. You must never show up to a meeting, conference, or court date unprepared.2. Rule 1.3 — Diligence
A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. [ABA Model Rule 1.3]
Like competence, diligence seems simple enough. But with busy schedules and unwieldy caseloads, many lawyers are not performing with the diligence our clients (and the regulators) expect.
Diligence means staying organized in order to meet all deadlines, following through on all potential legal theories, doing the necessary to run down possible avenues for your client, and not “dropping the ball” on any client needs.3. Rule 1.7 — Conflict Of Interest: Current Clients
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. [ABA Model Rule 1.7]
The complete rules on conflicts (including paragraph (b), referred to above) are quite lengthy as far as model rules go, but the concept is not complicated. Do not represent a party adverse to current clients.
The trouble rarely comes because you represented an obviously-adverse party. Instead, it comes because you took on a conflicting representation without knowing it.
Clients can waive conflicts, but only if you follow the rules for obtaining proper consent. Rule 1.7(b) says that if an exception to the conflict exists, a client may consent to the representation only if “(4) each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.”
This does not just mean the client initials a broad waiver in the retainer agreement. Many states have specific requirements, but in all states, you must actually discuss the matter with clients and suggest that they seek counsel on the conflict waiver before signing it.Avoiding Trouble
These commonly-violated rules are probably the first three you learned in your professional responsibility class in law school. Yet they remain some of the most frequently charged. So how can you avoid them?
There are many ways to answer this question, but the best tip is simply to get organized. Know who your clients and their adversaries are by maintaining an up-to-date contact database, and use a solid conflict-checking system. Get your calendar in order so you never miss a deadline. Stay ahead of the game and don’t get overwhelmed by your obligations so that you are always putting out fires instead of working strategically. And keep abreast of the rules in your state, especially those relating to conflicts and waivers.
This was originally published on July 31, 2013. It was revised and republished on June 5, 2014.
Three Commonly-Violated Ethics Rules 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.
When it comes to practice management software for solos and small firms, Time Matters by LexisNexis has been one of the most-popular options for years. But LexisNexis’s cloud-software option, Firm Manager, got off to a rocky start when it was first launched in 2011. Since then, LexisNexis completely redesigned Firm Manager with the help of a customer advisory board and input from hundreds of practicing lawyers.
So how did it do? Here is everything you need to know about the redesigned Firm Manager.Index
Firm Manager is a quick and easy signup. Visit the signup page, and you can be up and running in less than a minute (depending on how fast you type).Migrating to Firm Manager
LexisNexis will handle importing your data to Firm Manager. There is no option to do this yourself. Firm Manager says it is working on a robust import tool, but currently it can only import basic client and matter information.Using Firm Manager
The user interface of Firm Manager is immediately accessible, with tabs for navigation and lists of records under each tab (except the calendar, which is, obviously, a calendar). LexisNexis has not taken any chances with the design, which has some echoes of its desktop software.
It is, in other words, easy to find your way around.
A Quick Links menu in the upper right-hand corner makes some of the most-common tasks accessible. Next to it is a timer so you are always just a click away from billing time. And the omnipresent search box enables you to search everything you have in Firm Manager.
The options under Admin Tools are fairly limited, but you will probably want to set your default hourly rate right away.Timekeeping, Billing, and Trust Accounting
You can start and stop the timer from any screen in Firm Manager. When you click the stop button, you will be prompted to add a time entry. (The stop button works as a quick shortcut to the Add Time and Expenses dialog, as well.)
You can bill time or flat fees, but for more exotic billing structures, you will have to get creative.
Invoicing is basic and easy to use. You cannot customize your invoices, but the defaults work well enough. Firm Manager supports basic trust accounting, which means you can accept advance payments and use them to pay your invoices whether you use hourly billing or flat fees.
Firm Manager’s trust accounting will help you keep track of your clients’ funds, but it will not substitute for accounting software. Also, it does not have any reporting functions, so you might need some other way to meet your state’s trust account reporting requirements.Conflict Checking
Firm Manager is one of the few cloud-based practice management software packages to include a conflict-checking feature. Basically, though, it’s just a search box. You type in the terms you want to check for (like a company name), and see what turns up.
You can also save searches to avoid duplication or prove that you did your due diligence if you wind up with a conflict later on.
However, this feature is effectively the same thing as using the regular search box. The only difference is that you can save your searches attached to a contact record. You can do the same kind of conflict checking in any of the cloud-based practice management software we have reviewed, as a matter of fact. They don’t offer saved searches, but you could just print the results (to PDF, if you are paperless), instead.
Conflict checking in Firm Manager works just fine, in other words. It’s just that it could be so much more awesome if Firm Manager used what it knows (everything in a contact record) to look for potential conflicts rather than relying on the user to manually enter search terms.Support
Firm Manager comes with pretty extensive support. There is a phone number for live support right on your dashboard, along with live chat with a LexisNexis representative, available from 8am to 8pm Eastern. Plus, there is a fairly useful knowledgebase, and a support community.
I tried calling customer support, and was greeted by a recording and a request to take a survey, but a support representative picked up fairly quickly to answer my question about mobile access.
If you are in a hurry, use the phone number. I tried the live chat option first, but sat staring at this for a few minutes:
I am taking a look at your questions. Give me a couple of moments.
I got an answer to my question over the phone while this popped up in the chat window:
Thanks for holding. I am still looking into your question.
That gave me the feeling I was being strung along by a bot while a support representative was getting coffee or something. After more than 20 minutes (I left the tab open and forgot about it), I got this completely irrelevant response:
I have checked several resources and I cannot find any dedicated site for the iPhone. What I did find was that you have to login to Firm Manager on a desktop / laptop to change your password first. Then you can go to https://app.firmmanager.com/app and login and use Firm Manager on your iPhone.
I gave up on the live chat. Use the phone number.Mobile Access
The reason I was calling support in the first place because in its demo video, you can see people using what looks like either an app or a mobile-responsive version of Firm Manager on an iPhone. Indeed, the Firm Manager features page says “See all your firm’s information, wherever you are, on whatever device you’re using.” And in its February press release, LexisNexis claimed “The Firm Manager service is easy to access from any device, including smart phones, through a mobile friendly site.”
When I tried to access Firm Manager on my iPhone, however, that’s not what I saw. It was just the regular Firm Manager website, which meant I had to do a lot of zooming and scrolling to do anything. So I went back to look closer and realized the video is just showing a small section of the regular Firm Manager website on an iPhone. Here is a capture from the video:
Firm Manager works fine on a larger screen, like a desktop or tablet, but it is not responsive, which means it is not very usable on a smaller smartphone screen. While it’s technically true that you can access Firm Manager from any device, the experience on a smartphone is probably not what you would expect from LexisNexis’s claims.
In sum, Firm Manager is not a great option if you plan to do a lot of practice management from your phone.Features (Developing …)
Firm Manager has a fairly basic feature set, and it is still in active development. That means it doesn’t have features that are available from its competitors right now. So if you are choosing practice management software for your firm, you should know what you don’t get with Firm Manager — at least not yet. Here are some examples.
On the flip side, Firm Manager already does most of what you would to run a practice. It’s pretty good at what it does, even if it lags the competition a bit. Plus, it’s support community is full of input from its users, and LexisNexis seems to be listening carefully. In particular, project manager Chris Anderson is very active in the support community. If you are patient and want to have a say in how your firm’s practice management software develops, you might have a greater chance than usual with Firm Manager.Pricing
Firm Manager offers a 30-day free trial. After that, it is just $45/month for the first user, and $30/month for additional users. That’s not the cheapest (MyCase has a slight edge, at the moment), but it is competitive.
And you can try it for free for 30 days before you have to pay anything. You don’t even need a credit card to sign up for the trial.Evaluating Firm Manager for Your Practice
To evaluate Firm Manager, you should just sign up for the free trial and put it through its paces. Ideally, sign up at the same time as you bring a new client on board, and use Firm Manager to manage that client.
Even better, sign up for free trials of all the practice management software you are considering, and run the same client through all of them at the same time. It’s a lot of duplicated effort, but it’s also the only way to really compare them side-by-side on an equal footing. You should have a pretty good idea which one you want to use after a week or two. Since you aren’t likely to change your practice management software very often (or ever again, more likely), it is worth your time to pick the one that will work best for your practice.
And trying Firm Manager is your only option, at this point, because I couldn’t find any reviews of the current version of Firm Manager.Updates
We will try to keep this article up to date and keep track of changes. Please let us know if we missed something or screwed something up, or if we can help answer your questions about Firm Manager.
LexisNexis Firm Manager Law Practice Management Software 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.
One of the great things about email (versus snail mail) is that you can respond instantly. The downside is that people expect you to respond instantly. (This expectation is so common that there seems to be at least one person in every office who sends an email and immediately either calls you or visits your desk to see if you got it.) The Out of Office auto reply was invented to remind people that, hey, not everybody is connected all the time. It’s such a widely-used feature of most email clients, it’s considered rude to not use it. But, as with every good thing, the bad guys are threatening to spoil it. Cyber security experts are warning that the information contained in your Out of Office reply can be exploited by spammers and other scam artists. Don’t believe me? Think about all the information that is typically contained in a Out of Office auto response:
You may think this is fairly innocuous information. But in the hands of someone intent on exploiting the unsuspecting, this is just enough information to pull off a scam. Think about it. If your assistant received a call from someone masquerading as your hotel’s concierge and asking for a credit card number to charge your event tickets to, how confident are you that your assistant wouldn’t hand it over? For this reason, some security experts recommend forgoing Out of Office altogether. While that may be your safest bet, it might not be terribly practical. The trick will be finding a balance between security and keeping important people informed. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to configure Microsoft Outlook’s Out of Office auto reply to keep your law practice running smoothly and safely.Out of Office: The Basics
The Out of Office feature in Microsoft Outlook is not available to every Outlook user. Only those who are sending and receiving their email via an Exchange Server can use this feature. The reason for this is fairly simple: if you’re out of the office, chances are your computer is off and Outlook is not running. In your absence, Exchange Server will still be able to process mail into your inbox and send auto replies. (Even without Exchange Server, you can emulate some of the features of Out of Office, but it will require that you use the Rules feature and leave your computer and Microsoft Outlook running while you’re away.) To set up Out of Office, go to the File tab in Outlook 2010 or 2013 and click on Automatic Replies. (In earlier versions of Outlook, the Out of Office Assistant is found under Tools on the menu bar.) The Automatic Replies dialog box is organized into two sections. The top third of the dialog box is where you turn Out of Office on and off. When Out of Office is turned off, the radio button next to “do not send automatic replies” is selected. If you click “send automatic replies,” this turns Out of Office on. If you want to have automatic replies sent until you get back into the office and can turn Out of Office off manually, leave the check box next to “only send during this time range” unchecked. If you want automatic replies to turn off automatically at a certain date and time, however, use the start time and end time boxes. The bottom two thirds of the dialog box allows you to customize the outgoing message. Notice there are two tabs in this section. This means you can send a more descriptive message to people inside your firm (for example, including your hotel or other itinerary information) and send a shorter message (or none at all) to senders outside your firm.Thwarting Spammers
One of the most basic dangers of the Out of Office reply is that it confirms to every sender they’ve hit a working email address. For spammers, this is valuable information. It lets them know that they (or anyone they sell your address to) that continuing to send email to that address won’t be entirely in vain. But part of the reason you want to turn your Out of Office reply on is to let important people (including clients and others outside your firm) know not to expect an immediate response. The Outside My Organization tab allows you to set an automatic reply to people who are outside your firm but only if their email address is found in your Outlook Contacts list. Simply select the radio button next to “My Contacts only” and random senders like spammers won’t get your Out of Office reply. Those with whom you correspond often enough to keep their information in your Contacts list, though, will. This has the added bonus of preventing your Out of Office reply from going to every single one of the hundreds or thousands of people on the same email listservs you are subscribed to.Out-of-Office Alternative: Autoforward
If you’re sufficiently spooked by the prospect of spammers and other scam artists misusing your Out of Office reply, here’s one suggestion: instead of setting up a response to be returned to whoever is emailing you, use Rules to forward their message automatically to someone in your office for handling. This could be especially useful if you have an active client who may have an emergency while you’re at that out-of-town CLE. As long as you can specify the email addresses (or even the email domains) of those whose messages you want handling your absence, Automatic Reply Rules will help ensure they get the attention they need without compromising your security. To set this up, click the Rules button in the lower left-hand corner of the Automatic Replies dialog box. Click Add Rule in the Automatic Reply Rules dialog box: Here, you’ll be able to specify which messages should receive special handling according to a number of criteria. Probably the easiest to manage will be messages from particular senders. For example, you could click the From button and choose one or more entries from your contacts list, then check the Forward checkbox and specify your assistant’s or law partner’s email address by clicking the To button.For Security’s Sake, Make a Decision
Regardless of how you choose to deal with the Out of Office situation, don’t just use the default “reply to all” settings and let it go at that. Take the time to find the balance between security and responsiveness that works for your law practice. You could choose one of the options above, or you may come up with a better solution after consulting with your IT person and your law partners. Featured image: “N is for Neil the Nonce having a cup of char” by Eric is licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Use Outlook’s Auto Reply without Attracting Spammers and Crooks 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.
Jordan Furlong points out something obvious about the startup world: the “Cambrian explosion of innovative new businesses is occurring contemporaneously with a mass extinction: failed startups overwhelmingly outnumber successful ones.” Meanwhile, some lawyers are excitedly trying to emulate startups in law practice. (Logikcull’s Andy Wilson even started a series on running a law firm like a SaaS company.)
Jordan says “Failure is built into innovation. It’s a feature, not a bug.” But failure means some very different things in a legal context. Legal startups have to innovate more carefully, because there is more at stake than just stock value and customer who might be inconvenienced if the company shuts down. [Law21]Should We Get Rid of Trust Accounts?
Carolyn Elefant, being provocative, says trust accounts are a relic and we don’t need them. [My Shingle]This Message Is Privileged and Confidential
89% of lawyers use email to communicate with clients or privileged third parties. (I assume the other 11% are using flag semaphore.) Of those, says Bob Ambrogi,
Asked what precautions they take when sending privileged communications via email, 77 percent said that they include the confidentiality statement.
FindLaw is the subject of many, many strong opinions. After listening to input, my take is to stay far away from it. I avoid it like MERS.
Also, it’s really really expensive. [Divorce Discourse]Tom Goldstein Writes to a Porn Star’s Lawyer
My favorite legal writing of all time is Marc Randazza’s response brief in Beck v. Eiland-Hall (pdf; read it), but Tom Goldstein’s (yes, that one) response to the demand letter of a porn star who slipped and twisted her ankle is in the same league. It’s worth reading from beginning to end, but Goldstein really builds to a crescendo at the end:
If she sues, the complaint will be sanctionably frivolous. Your client should just box up almost every last bit of her property (please exclude all videos and photographs, as well as the seemingly inevitable small yappy dog) and drop it off with you in safe-keeping for Mr. Bilzerian. After he receives the judgment in his favor, he will have it all delivered to him. Then he will probably blow it up with a mortar in the desert.
I enjoyed our brief correspondence.
That closing is the lawyer’s equivalent of dropping the mic. I’m filing the entire letter away in the hope that, someday, a client who has been threatened with an equally-ridiculous lawsuit will contact me so I can gleefully plagiarize Goldstein’s letter. [Lowering the Bar]
That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend!
Featured image: “Concept of fear with businessman like an ostrich” from Shutterstock.
Law Blog Week in Review: A Supreme Court Litigator Writes to a Porn Star’s Lawyer 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.
The Transporter is a “personal cloud” that claims to be a Dropbox alternative for lawyers. If you don’t want to pay a subscription fee for a cloud-based service, or you are re-thinking the cloud, but you still want to be able to access your documents from any device and collaborate with clients and colleagues while staying in control of your data, the Transporter might be for you.
After putting it through its paces, here is what I learned.1Hardware and Installation
The Transporter comes in two flavors: the Transporter and Transporter Sync. The Sync is $99.00 and is a small circular “puck” that allows you to use an existing external hard drive for storage and sync (more on this functionality later). The Sync must be attached to a network by hardwired Ethernet in order to use its sharing and other cloud-like functions.
The Transporter (the unit I have sitting on my desk) is a bit taller and comes with or without the required internal hard drive. (I ordered the empty transporter and a 2 TB hard drive from Amazon.) It also has a USB port for an optional wireless adapter if you want to go wireless after the initial setup. This unit varies in price depending on whether you order it with a hard drive pre-installed.
Setup is pretty painless. The first step is to download the Transporter Desktop software for your Mac or Windows machine and install it. This software is required to properly format the internal drive (that you install on your next step) for use in your Transporter private cloud.
Upon opening the box for the Transporter, you get an Ethernet cable, power cord and the Transporter itself. If you ordered a separate hard drive like I did, you have to install the hard drive, first. To do that, just pop the top of the unit, add the drive to the enclosed guide, plug the drive and guide into the unit, then close it back up. Plug the power and networking cords into the right places and you will up and running.
When you first plug in the unit, you’ll see some pulsating lights around the “waist” of the unit. The green light means it is starting up, the second alternates between blue and green and means the drive is being formatted, and the final blue light means your computer is syncing up with your Transporter.
After the initial setup, you have the option to go wireless with a wireless adapter. I did not choose to do this because I have a networking switch that I use, and I like hard wires where possible.The Desktop Software
While your Transporter is starting up and formatting, be sure to check out the desktop software and its accompanying, web-based management dashboard. You will use both of these for various things as you get to know the unit.Transporter Desktop Software Setup
If you want a combination of easy access to your documents, and another backup, the first thing you will want to do is set up the “Special Folders” in the preferences pane of the desktop software. Special Folders are always synced to your Transporter, like your photos, videos, documents, and music.
One minor hiccup with this process is that when designating which folders to sync, you are told that the folders will be moved to a separate sub-folder to avoid conflicts created when syncing multiple computers through the Transporter. If the move causes issues with your file paths, you can simply move everything back where it was once the sync has started. This issue falls into the minor annoyance category.
You will also want to find your Transporter folder. This is where all of the local and Transporter Library (more on this in a moment) files will show up as they sync. The Transporter folder is the hub for all the great stuff you can do with your Transporter. From there, you can send links to particular files and create folders to share with your friends, clients, and anyone else with whom you want to share large files.The Management Console
The second part of the software experience — which will be used in a limited fashion by those with whom you share — is the Management Console. This is the web interface for your Transporter. From here you can manage shared folders and shared links, and also see the health, remaining disk capacity, software versions, and other diagnostic information for your unit. More on the web interface in the next section.
Once you have synced everything you want to through the Special Folders preferences, you can explore the sharing and remote functions of your Transporter private cloud.Sharing From Your Transporter Private Cloud
This is where the rubber hits the road on this unit. Thanks to Sam, I was able to get some good feedback on the end-user experience for those who don’t own a Transporter.
The Transporter can host files for sharing with those who don’t have their own Transporter or Transporter Sync units. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to demand that your clients buy hardware just so you can share files with them. This is why I decided to try the Transporter, so I was itching to find out how to do this.Sharing a Single Document
Sharing a single document is fairly straight forward. You simply right click (or ctrl+click) on a file in the Transporter folder and use the contextual menu to create a link to the document. The link is then automatically copied to your clipboard so you can paste it into an email. Easy enough.
However, for those that receive the document, things get a bit clunky. The recipient is first asked to download and install the Transporter Downloader software. Here’s the notice that pops up in the recipient’s web browser:
Once the program is installed and the download completes, this is what the recipient will see:
While this seems simple, the resulting screen does not let the recipient simply open the file with a double-click. To find out where the file is, he or she has to click on the small settings button (the light switch above, on a Mac) to find out where the app is saving files, then navigate to that folder to get the file.Sharing a Folder
The sharing of a folder is a bit more complicated on both ends. As the sharer, you can either use the Management Console or create a shared folder from the desktop software (either through the Transporter Folder contextual menu or the software itself). In either case, you are taken to the web interface to go through a few steps before you can share the folder and anything in it.
Once in the web interface, you will be asked to name the folder and give it a description. Once you do this, the folder shows up in your Transporter folder and you can fill it with the files you want to share. (Or if you share a folder already synced to your Transporter, it will already have files in it.) Once you create the shared folder, you have to invite those with whom you wish to share. If they already have a Transporter account set up, you can find them by name or email. Otherwise, click on the “Tell Your Friends” button in the Add/Remove People dialog box and add them by email.
Assuming you are inviting them for the first time, the recipient will get an email stating that you have shared a folder and that they will have to open a Transporter account:
I believe that this is done for security purposes (similarly, you need a Dropbox account to sync files through Dropbox). Once they have an account, they will then have their own Transporter folder with your shared folder in it. At that point, any changes to documents in that shared folder or any additions to that folder, will be available to all that were invited to share it.
To summarize, the set up for the end user to allow them to have access to either a single file or a folder is a bit of a hassle the first time they do it, but the experience is pretty smooth after that point. The folder sharing is easy, and once the folders are set up and your colleagues have accounts, file sharing is an easy and seamless experience.Remote File Access
Another benefit of the Transporter is the easy remote file access from other computers, tablets, and smartphones. Download the desktop software to your laptop or another desktop computer, and you have access to all your synced files. Android and iPad users can download an app that will allow you to access your synced files, and you can selectively download individual files to your tablet or phone. The speed with which I was able to connect to the Transporter from my iPad was impressive through my home wi-fi.
Remote file access is what differentiates the Transporter folder from the Transporter Library come in. The basic difference is that the Transporter folder carries local copies of your files on your computer while the Transporter Library holds those files exclusively on the Transporter unit. This means that all files that are in the Transporter folder will also be cloned and stored on any laptop or desktop that works off of the same Transporter account, but files in the Transporter Library are not synced up.
I have not tried this aspect out because my laptop is also my desktop at work so I don’t need to sync multiple computers, but I can see how using these two spaces wisely could allow easy access without hogging disk space on a remote computer.
For a solo that is not always in the office, this easy remote access is a great feature that I plan to use a lot.Other Features
One feature that I haven’t used is the selective sync feature that allows remote users to decide which folders will be synced locally to their computers. According to Transporter, this is a per-computer method to save disk space, particularly for those hosted users (those without their own Transporter and no Transporter Library option from their end).
Another is the use of the Special Folders on multiple computers. Using Special Folders on multiple computers will merge all of the files in those folders from each computer to one central location. You can use this to sync all your documents on all of the computers that you use so that you can access them everywhere. Since I don’t use multiple computers for work, I haven’t tried this out.Conclusion
My first run at the Transporter private cloud gave me a good impression, at least from my end. Installation is plug and play for the most part and file access from my tablet was simple. Any hiccups seem to occur on the hosted user’s end, and those are relatively minor interface issues that I assume will be fixed.
Should you run out and buy one? That’s up to you. If you already use and like Dropbox or a similar cloud service and don’t have issues with the recurring fees for extra storage, then probably not. However, if you share files, work remotely often, and don’t have a server for your firm, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to set up remote file storage, sync, and sharing.
So far, I’ve owned the Transporter for just a few days. I will update this post if I learn anything from greater use. ↩
Transporter Private Cloud File Storage & Sync: the User 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.
Yesterday, TrueCrypt started warning users that its software is no longer secure, and urged them to migrate to Bitlocker (Windows) or FileVault (Mac) as soon as possible. According to the page, TrueCrypt decided to stop development after Microsoft finally ended support for Windows XP, since later versions of Windows offer Bitlocker as an integrated option.
Here’s the warning, displayed on TrueCrypt’s SourceForge page (truecrypt.org now redirects to its SourceForge page, as well):
The development of TrueCrypt was ended in 5/2014 after Microsoft terminated support of Windows XP. Windows 8/7/Vista and later offer integrated support for encrypted disks and virtual disk images. Such integrated support is also available on other platforms (click here for more information). You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform.
If you are currently using TrueCrypt, you should probably switch to Bitlocker or FileVault as soon as possible. To migrate off of TrueCrypt, follow the instructions in our post on enabling encryption for client files, or check out the step-by-step tutorials on TrueCrypt’s SourceForge page.
Note that if you use Windows, you may have to upgrade your version. Bitlocker is only available on the Ultimate and Enterprise versions of Windows Vista and 7, and on the Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows 8.
(Thanks, William Chuang, for reminding me about this today!)
TrueCrypt is Not Secure; Use Bitlocker or FileVault Instead 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.
The Ergotron WorkFit-A Platinum is a robust, good-looking sit-stand workstation that attaches to your desk and lets you switch between sitting and standing throughout the day. After all, standing is apparently better for your long-term health. But since it is not always comfortable to stand all day, every day, it is nice to have the option to sit down without rearranging your entire workspace.
You could just set up a standing-only (or sitting-only) desk, but it’s really nice to have the option to pick between sitting and standing throughout the day. There’s no point in standing all day if you get too tired to be productive. Some say this goes away after a while, but it never did for me, even when I was standing full-time for several months. Now, I usually stand for a few hours in the morning while I am fresh, then sit in the afternoon until I start getting tired. Then I stand up again to help me stay alert.
The WorkFit-A is a relatively new entry in Ergotron’s line of sit-stand workstations. Last year, for example, I tried the Ergotron WorkFit-S, and I have used it regularly since then. The WorkFit-A is a bit more expensive than the S model, has all metal components, and attaches to the back of your desk, rather than the front.Setting Up the Ergotron WorkFit-A Platinum
Setting up the WorkFit-A is not simple, but the directions are clear and all the tools you will need besides a screwdriver are included in the box. It took me about 20 minutes to set everything up — from the time I opened the box to the time I turned my computer back on.
One warning: you do need a sturdy desk to use the WorkFit-A. After setting everything up, I was all ready to sharply criticize its wobbliness when I realized the flex was coming from my Ikea Galant work table, not the WorkFit-A. It turns out 3/4″ particleboard can get pretty flexible when you attach a heavy three-foot lever with a significant weight on the other end.
The WorkFit-A mounts to the back of your desk, and the sturdy articulating arm stretches across your desk. Initially, I was hoping the WorkFit-A would give me more usable space than the S, but the S turns out to be the more compact model because you can easily fit things behind it. The arm of the WorkFit-A needs to move up and down, which reduces the usable space on your desk surface considerably.
On the flip side, the WorkFit-A has a work surface built right in. You can put documents in front of you while you are working on them, leave your phone in view, or whatever you like.Sitting and Standing with the WorkFit-A
The entire assembly moves up and down so you can switch between sitting and standing. When you want to stand up, just pull the workstation up with you, and do the reverse when you want to sit down. When sitting, the keyboard tray reaches over your desk so that it can sit at a comfortable height for typing and mousing. The action is smooth doesn’t require much effort. The only downside to the attractive monitor mount (which, despite appearances, works just fine with non-Apple monitors) is that it does not adjust up and down. You are stuck with the stock height and tilting the screen forward and backward. Whether or not this is a problem for you depends on your body. For me, the screen is a bit low when standing, but it’s not so far off that I mind or notice any strain.
Assuming you have a strong-enough table top, the WorkFit-A itself is surprisingly solid. The plastic keyboard tray on the S model actually bounces quite a bit during typing. The WorkFit-A barely moves at all by comparison, and typing and mousing (or touchpad-ing, in my case) is essentially free of distracting movement. It’s not quite as solid as a desk, but it is close enough.
The keyboard tray on the WorkFit-A is plenty wide for a full keyboard with number pad and a mouse or trackpad. However, it is pretty close quarters for working with a mouse. You might be more comfortable with a trackpad.Summary
The Ergotron WorkFit-A Platinum is a solid, good-looking sit-stand workstation that works great if you have a sturdy desk to attach it to.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Ergotron WorkFit-A Platinum, reviewed by Sam Glover on May 28, 2014.
Ergotron WorkFit-A Platinum Sit-Stand Workstation 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.
Well designed, fashionable, professional-yet-functional bags for women are so hard to find. I surveyed over 500 women lawyers on email lists, Facebook, and Twitter, in order to compile this list of briefcases for women. The list includes a wide range of names, styles, colors, and interesting lesser-known brands, all of which can accommodate a laptop.
These are my three rules for a well-designed bag for lawyers:
In the previous version of this post, Staci Zaretsky spoke with Kat Griffin, the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Corporette. Griffin said:
I think the fact is that women have to put SOMETHING on when they get up in the morning, whether it’s cute or not. Similarly, they have to carry their papers in something. And the sad fact is that what you end up wearing and carrying — they ALL reflect on your professionalism. If it’s dowdy and frumpy, you look out of touch with the modern world. If it’s too sexy or feminine, it may suggest that you’re dressing for your social life rather than your working life.
This balance between professional, functional, and not too frumpy or too sexy makes it a challenge to find a briefcase or bag. The recommendations from the lawyers I surveyed were mostly a variation on the traditional briefcase or tote. There were also many suggestions for rolling bags, which are especially helpful if you have to carry a lot of weight and negotiate high heels at the same time.
First up: bags under $100.
Fashionable, Professional Bags for Women 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.