Monday, December 5, 2011

Quieting Electronic “Noise” – Be More Productive

This post at Law Practice Today gives some great advice for legal professionals on how to be less distracted by electronic “noise” and more productive in the workplace.  Law students, especially as they are preparing to take semester finals, should also heed this advice.

“There are only so many hours in a workday. We like to think that we are in control of our time during those hours -- but most of us, in fact, are not. Slowly but surely, we have ceded control of our time to “noise” in our workplace environment.
Every interruption at work – the pinging an electronic device, the juggling of multiple demands, the time spent chatting with a friendly colleague – takes focus from the task at hand. You feel busy -- but you’re not getting much done. You are confusing activity with productivity.
In order to be focused and productive, most lawyers and other legal professionals need to take back their time – setting aside a certain amount of quiet time within their “noisy” electronic, interpersonal and physical environments.”

For law students, social media and surfing the net seem to be two of the biggest distractions from being productive.  Learning how to manage time wisely is a skill that law students should develop and carry with them into practice.  I would think that pulling "all-nighters" would get old in practice! 




December 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Website

Educating Tomorrow's Lawyer's has a helpful website here.  The site includes course portfolios, a list of teaching resources, a blog, and events/news.

This is an innovative organization, dedicated to the advancement of legal education.  Their mission statement declares:

"Using the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report as a starting point, ETL will build upon recent efforts to develop a national consortium of institutions and an innovative community of faculty committed to implementing wider and more integrated approaches to legal education. By offering a structured, committed, and highly collaborative approach, combined with dedicated staff and resources and a mission focused on best practice analysis of legal education, ETL is taking years of advances in legal education learning theory and creating an innovative, robust and accessible foundation for ongoing inquiry, exploration and measurement in legal education."


December 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The ethical pitfalls of lawyers blogging

This story from Above the Law warns that some state bar associations may equate law firm blogs with unethical advertising. 

Is Law Blogging Just Advertising? The Virginia Bar Thinks So.

On October 18, a disciplinary committee found that attorney Horace Hunter violated ethics rules by writing a regular blog about cases in which he was involved, without adding any disclaimer categorizing the writing as advertising.

Hunter blogs on his firm’s website. He claims the content is not advertising, and that he has a First Amendment right to post it without disclaimers.

The Washington Post explained the Bar’s position a few days before the decision came out:

One purpose of the Web site is to market the firm and attract business, so any discussion of Hunter’s cases is considered advertising and must include a disclaimer “that puts the case results in a context that is not misleading,” the charge said.

To me, this shows a serious misunderstanding of how the Internet works. Obviously any business operates a website so that people can find it easily — and hopefully take advantage of its services. Does this mean everything on your site is an advertisement? Not necessarily.

A quality website — whether it’s for an oil company, a law firm, or a rock band — is most effective when it provides useful information for potential customers. It’s not about hard selling. It’s about being genuinely helpful and endearing yourself to the marketplace. Above the Law columnist Brian Tannebaum wrote a good column yesterday about Twitter’s ability to do this.

The Virginia Bar seems to think all lawyers who blog are writing content akin to the BP ads after the Gulf oil spill. I guess I’m not that cynical. Besides, a normal person should be able to tell the difference between simple shilling and at least an attempt to be informative.

. . . .

In the Washington Post piece, attorney Brad Shear brought up the ol’ slippery slope argument against disallowing what are essentially marketing necessities at this point. If blogging isn’t necessary in and of itself, web-based marketing is a part of life, and the profession needs to embrace it, just like every other industry on the planet:

“If the Virginia Bar believes that blogs that discuss news and commentary should have stringent disclaimers that precede the content because they are deemed to be advertisements, then the Virginia Bar may have to require that every blog post, blog comments on other blogs and other user-generated content by an attorney to contain a strict disclaimer,” said Shear, who has no ties to the Hunter case. “It becomes a slippery slope.”

I can’t believe he actually said “slippery slope” — but the point rings true. Just because an attorney is writing about the law does not mean he’s writing an ad. He might be, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, bury our heads in the sand, wear sunglasses at night, whatever.

Continue reading here.


December 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

In response to NYT article, one solo says law schools should continue to focus on theory not "skills"

Although I think law schools can and should do more to teach student practical legal skills, I also happen to agree with this post from in which solo practitioner Carolyn Elefant says that the thrust of a legal education should continue to emphasize theory and analysis over the nuts and bolts of practice which can be better carried-out by software anyway.  Give students good analytical skills and they'll be able to figure out the rest on their own. An excerpt from Solos Don't Need a Separate Education:

You’d think that as a solo, that I stand lock step with the position that law school doesn’t prepare students for the practice of law, particularly for solo practice. But I don’t (even though I do appreciate the shout-out from Victoria Pynchon in Forbes). No, I’m not an apologist for legal education like the academics quoted by Scott – certainly there are many ways to inject reality into the legal educational process. But as a solo – and from what I see all too prominently in solo practice – is that introducing students to forms and how-to’s and checklists won’t do much more than produce human (and more expensive) versions of LegalZoom.

. . . .

The experts quoted in the New York Times article use tasks like filing a corporate certificate or drafting a contract or completing forms or drafting a complaint as an example of the “skills” that law school needs to teach. Yet why do we glorify these tasks that can – and in fact, are performed by computerized, quasi-lawyer services like Legal Zoom. In fact, those solos who aren’t able to do more than fill out forms for clients are either (a) going out of business because they can’t compete with lower priced online services or (b) relegated to volume or unbundled service delivered online which though rewarding or compatible with work life balance, may not generate enough revenue to pay the bills.
. . . .

What’s worse about skills training, however, is that misguided notion that solos need a special curriculum and that they’re not served by what’s currently taught. This misconception pervades both the academy (where Jeff Kahn at Concurring Opinions suggests that there’s no one-size fits all education for Skadden lawyers and solos) and practicing lawyers (Victoria Pynchon takes issue with the relevance of merger checklists when solos focus on bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce). Are we not all lawyers? Don’t solos need strong analytical, issue-spotting and writing skills?

. . . .

No, law school isn’t perfect but I’m not so sure that there’s a need for structural overhaul either. Most schools hire adjunct professors who are practicing lawyers and offer opportunities for hands-on training through clinics, moot court, internships and skills courses. Integrating practical skills (for example, contract drafting into Contract Law) would improve law school further, as would incorporating discussion of ethical issues into substantive law classes instead of ghettoizing it as an independent unit void of context. But other than that, we – particularly we solos – need to ask whether in a world where knowledge and judgment command the most value, we really want to focus on skills. In short, we should be careful what we wish for – because we just might get it and regret it.

You can read the stuff I've left out here.


December 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Legal Education: Don’t Disparage the Humanities

In the ongoing debate over legal education, the focus has been on teaching legal skills v. teaching legal doctrine and analysis. Implicitly, the debate has quietly said nothing complimentary about such courses as Law & Literature, Legal History, and Jurisprudence. Are these courses too impractical to include in the curriculum? Should academics spend their time writing in these fields?

An essential part of lawyering is understanding the human condition. We spend our time working with people, trying to understand what motivates them, what generates pain, anger, discomfort, what they  really want, what will satisfy them. The humanities help us learn about the human condition—a lifelong educational process. Without this knowledge, lawyers probably will not be very accomplished.

I often think about a conversation that I once had with an effective lawyer-lobbyist. He said that one of the most important classes he ever took was a class on the Greek plays. According to the lawyer, those ancient works taught him much about human nature.


December 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)