Friday, January 26, 2024

Are Lawyers, Lawmakers, and Law Professors Really Ready for AI in 2024?

We just finished our second week of the semester and I’m already exhausted, partly because I just submitted the first draft of a law review article that’s 123 pages with over 600 footnotes on a future-proof framework for AI regulation to the University of Tennessee Journal of Business Law. I should have stuck with my original topic of legal ethics and AI.

But alas, who knew so much would happen in 2023? I certainly didn’t even though I spent the entire year speaking on AI to lawyers, businesspeople, and government officials. So, I decided to change my topic in late November as it became clearer that the EU would finally take action on the EU AI Act and that the Brussels effect would likely take hold requiring other governments and all the big players in the tech space to take notice and sharpen their own agendas.

But I’m one of the lucky ones because although I’m not a techie, I’m a former chief privacy officer, and spend a lot of time thinking about things like data protection and cybersecurity, especially as it relates to AI. And I recently assumed the role of GC of an AI startup. So, because I’m tech-adjacent, I’ve spent hours every day immersed in the legal and tech issues related to large and small language models, generative AI (GAI), artificial general intelligence (AGI), APIs, singularity, the Turing test, and the minutiae of potential regulation around the world. I’ve become so immersed that I actually toggled between listening to the outstanding Institute for Well-Being In Law virtual conference and the FTC’s 4-hour tech summit yesterday with founders, journalists, economists, and academics. Adding more fuel to the fire, just before the summit kicked off, the FTC announced an inquiry into the partnerships and investments of  Alphabet, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc., Anthropic PBC, Microsoft Corp., and OpenAI, Inc. Between that and the NY Times lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft alleging billions in damages for purported IP violations, we are living in interesting times.

If you’ve paid attention to the speeches at Davos, you know that it was all AI all the time. I follow statements from the tech leaders like other people follow their fantasy football stats or NCAA brackets. Many professors, CEOs, and general consumers, on the other hand, have been caught by surprise by the very rapid acceleration of the developments, particularly related to generative AI.

However, now more members of the general public are paying attention to the concept of deepfakes and demanding legislation in part because the supernova that is Taylor Swift has been victimized by someone creating fake pornographic images of her. We should be even more worried about the real and significant threat to the integrity of the fifty global elections and occurring in 2024 where members of the public may be duped into believing that political candidates have said things that they did not, such as President Biden telling people not to vote in the New Hampshire primary and to save their votes for November.

For those of us who teach in law schools in the US and who were either grading or recovering from grading in December, we learned a few days before Christmas that Lexis was rolling out its AI solution for 2Ls and 3Ls. Although I had planned to allow and even teach my students the basics of prompt engineering and using AI as a tool (and not a substitute for lawyering) in my business associations, contract drafting, and business and human rights class, now I have to also learn Lexis’ solution too. I feel for those professors who still ban the use of generative AI or aren’t equipped to teach students how to use it ethically and effectively.

Even so, I’m excited and my students are too. The legal profession is going to change dramatically over the next two years, and it’s our job as professors to prepare our students. Thompson Reuters, the ABA, and state courts have made it clear that we can’t sit by on the sidelines hoping that this fad will pass.

Professionally, I have used AI to redraft an employee handbook in my client’s voice (using my employment law knowledge, of course), prepare FAQs for another client’s code of conduct in a very specialized industry, prepare interview questions for my podcast, and draft fact patterns for simulations for conferences and in class. I’ve also tested its ability to draft NDAs and other simple agreements using only ChatGPT. It didn’t do so well there, but that’s because I know what I was looking for. And when I gave additional instructions, for example, about drafting a mutual indemnification clause and then a separate supercap, it did surprisingly well. But I know what should be in these agreements. The average layperson does not, something that concerns Chief Justice Roberts and should concern us all.

How have you changed your teaching with the advent of generative AI? If you’re already writing or teaching about AI or just want more resources, join the 159 law professors in a group founded by Professors April Dawson and Dan Linna. As for my law review article, I’m sure a lot of it will be obsolete by the time it’s published, but it should still be an interesting, if not terrifying, read for some.

January 26, 2024 in Business Associations, Compliance, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Law, Jobs, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 10, 2023

Ethical and Practical Issues for Lawyers Using AI

I’m a law professor, the general counsel of a medtech company, a podcaster, and I design and deliver courses on a variety of topics as a consultant. I think about and use generative AI daily and it’s really helped boost my productivity. Apparently, I’m unusual among lawyers. According to a Wolter’s Kluwers Future Ready Lawyer report that surveyed 700 legal professionals in the  US and EU, only 15% of lawyers are using generative AI right now but 73% expect to use it next year. 43% of those surveyed see it as an opportunity, 25% see it as a threat, and 26% see it as both.

If you’re planning to be part of the 73% and you practice in the US, here are some ethical implications with citations to select model rules. A few weeks ago, I posted here about business implications that you and your clients should consider.

  • How can you stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in AI technology and best practices, ensuring that you continue to adapt and evolve as a legal professional in an increasingly technology-driven world? Rule 1.1 (Competence)
  • How can AI tools be used effectively and ethically to enhance your practice, whether in legal research, document review, contract drafting, or litigation support, while maintaining high professional standards? Will it be malpractice NOT to use GAI in the future? Rule 1.1 (Competence), Comment 8, duty to understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology; Rule 1.3 (Diligence)
  • How can you obtain and document informed consent from clients when using AI tools in your practice, ensuring that they understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with these technologies? Rule 1.4 (Communication); Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information)
  • How can you obtain and document informed consent from clients when using AI tools in your practice, ensuring that they understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with these technologies? Rule 1.4 (Communication); Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information). Tip- Make sure your engagement letter discusses the use of technology and specifically addresses the responsible use of GAI.  If needed, amend your engagement letter. Adequately anonymize client information in your prompts. Make sure to opt out of data sets. Check the terms of service and privacy policies of your AI tools.
  • How do you rethink billing clients and what’s ethical if you have reliable AI models that can do some work in a fraction of the time? Is it still ethical to bill by the hour or do you use a flat rate? Rule 1.5 (Fees)
  • How can you effectively explain and defend the use of AI-generated evidence, analysis, or insights in court, demonstrating the validity and reliability of the methods and results to judges and opposing counsel? Rule 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal; Rule 4.1 Truthfulness in Statements to Others
  • What measures should you implement to supervise and train your staff, including paralegals and support personnel, in the responsible use of AI tools, ensuring that ethical and professional standards are maintained throughout the practice? Rule 5.1 (Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers); Rule 5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance)

Then there are the harder questions:

  • How many lawyers and legal professionals will you replace?
  • How many should you replace?
  • Who and how will you retrain and upskill?
  • Should your firm be developing your own large language models as some are already doing?  What are the risks? The 2022 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report found that accuracy is the top barrier preventing many lawyers from adopting AI. Some insurance brokers have indicated the existing GAI tools are not fit for law practice because of reliability, accuracy, confidentiality, and copyright concerns,

If you're ready to take the deep dive or maybe just dip your toe in the AI waters, here are some resources to help you get started on the journey. Of course, with the way things are changing so rapidly on the legislative and tech development front, this list could be relatively useless in the next few weeks.

ABA House of Delegates Resolution 604

Task Force on Responsible Use of Generative AI for Law- MIT

NIST AI Framework

FTC AI Guidance

EEOC Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Fairness Initiative

National Conference of State Legislatures-2023-legislation

SEC Investor Advisory Committee Establishment of an Ethical Artificial Intelligence Framework for Investment Advisors

ABA Task Force on the Law and Artificial Intelligence

Health AI Partnership

National Association of Insurance Commissioners

ISO 27701- International Standard for Protecting Personally Identifiable Information

Partnership on AI

Are you using generative AI in the classroom? How are you preparing the next generation of lawyers? If you’re a practicing lawyer, are you ready to be part of the 15% this year or the 73% next year? 

November 10, 2023 in Current Affairs, Ethics, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2023

How Do Law Partners Fare When Their Firms Fail?

Andrew Granato has posted his draft paper After the “Partner Run”: the Dewey & LeBoeuf Diaspora on SSRN.  You can find it here.  The abstract reads as follows:

“Partner runs” are a phenomenon distinctive to the American legal profession, a result of legal professional responsibility rules, partnership governance, and bankruptcy law that occasionally causes individual law firms to spiral into liquidation following unexceptional setbacks. It is unclear whether this idiosyncratic feature of law firm collapse can pose a threat to the industrial organization of the legal profession. Can lawyers easily recover and recreate the benefits of law firm scale by re-merging into other law firms with ease, or does a partner run mark a scarlet letter that poisons lawyers’ careers, and the legal profession as a whole, permanently?

I provide the first rigorous examination of this issue using the case study of the 2012 downfall of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the largest law firm bankruptcy ever. I hand-construct a dataset using public information in directories, news reports, and LinkedIn of the career outcomes of every lawyer who worked at Dewey’s U.S. offices in 2012 and a control group of similarly situated lawyers at law firms identified to me by former Dewey leadership as Dewey’s benchmark competition (1,575 lawyers total). Immediately after the firm crumpled, about 80% of Dewey’s partners remained in Biglaw as partners or forms of counsel, while about half of Dewey’s associates remained Biglaw associates. Ex-Dewey associates who were cluster-hired with their practice area out of Dewey as the firm collapsed are more likely to be (1) men and (2) Biglaw partners in 2022. I find suggestive and inconclusive evidence that ex-Dewey partners, a decade on, are marginally less likely to be partners at top law firms than alumni of control firms, and find that the overall distribution of 2022 employment, especially for ex-Dewey associates, is quite similar between alumni of Dewey and its rivals. I therefore find little evidence for stigma against (non-core management) Dewey lawyers or damage from dissolution of firm-specific relational capital in the labor market in the long run.

My findings suggest that the long-run cost of partner runs to the legal profession at an institutional level, at least in times when the overall legal job market is somewhat liquid, is modest at most. The policy implication of this finding is that policymakers and state bar associations should be cautious in modifying the rules that inadvertently generate partner runs, like the requirement of exclusive lawyer ownership of law firms, if such changes would also generate costs. These law firm glass houses, it seems, can regenerate elsewhere.

I first became acquainted with this work at the 2023 National Business Law Scholars Conference this past summer.  As a former Biglaw (a/k/a BigLaw and Big Law--maybe we can settle on one of these terms sometime?) lawyer, I find Andrew's inquiry interesting and the findings somewhat unsurprising (although I admit to being relieved that the impacts on partners were, in fact, modest).  Having known folks in firms that dissolved, I believe it's good to know that a law firm can fail and the partners can survive (and maybe even thrive).

October 23, 2023 in Joan Heminway, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 13, 2023

What Business Lawyers Needs to Ask their Clients About Generative AI Usage

Last week I had the pleasure of joining my fellow bloggers at the UT Connecting the Threads Conference on the legal issues related to generative AI (GAI) that lawyers need to understand for their clients and their own law practice. Here are some of the questions I posed to the audience and some recommendations for clients. I'll write about ethical issues for lawyers in a separate post. In the meantime, if you're using OpenAI or any other GAI, I strongly recommend that you read the terms of use. You may be surprised by certain clauses, including the indemnification provisions. 

I started by asking the audience members to consider what legal areas are most affected by GAI? Although there are many, I'll focus on data privacy and employment law in this post.

Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

Are the AI tools and technologies you use compliant with relevant data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA? Are they leaving you open to a cyberattack?

This topic also came up today at a conference at NCCU when I served as a panelist on cybersecurity preparedness for lawyers.

Why is this important?

ChatGPT was banned in Italy for a time over concerns about violations of the GDPR. The Polish government is investigating OpenAI over privacy issues. And there are at least two class action lawsuits in California naming Microsoft and OpenAI. Just yesterday, a US government agency halted the use of GAI due to data security risks. 

It’s also much easier for bad actors to commit cybercrime because of the amount of personal data they can  scrape and analyze and because deepfake technology allows impersonation of images and voices in a matter of seconds. The NSA and FBI have warned people to be worried about misinformation and cyberthreats due to the technology. On a positive note, some are using GAI to fight cybercrime.

Surveillance and facial recognition technology can violate privacy and human rights. Governments have used surveillance technology to tamp down on and round up dissidents, protestors, and human rights defenders for years. Now better AI tools makes that easier. And if you haven't heard some of the cautions about Clearview AI and the misidentification of citizens, you should read this article. A new book claims that this company could "end privacy as we know it."

What should (you and) your clients do?

  • Ensure algorithms minimize collection and processing of personal data and build in confidentiality safeguards to comply with privacy laws
  • Revise privacy and terms of use policies on websites to account for GAI
  • Build in transparency for individuals to control how data is collected and used
  • Turn on privacy settings in all AI tools and don’t allow your data to be used for training the large language models
  • Turn off chat history in settings on all devices
  • Prevent browser add-ons
  • Check outside counsel guidelines for AI restrictions (or draft them for your clients)
  • Work with your IT provider or web authority to make sure your and your clients’ data is not being scraped for training
  • Use synthetic data sets instead of actual personally identifiable information
  • Ensure that you have a Generative AI Security Policy
  • Check vendor contracts for AI usage
  • Enhance cybersecurity training
  • Conduct a table top exercise and make sure that you have an incident response plan in place
  • Check cyberinsurance policies for AI clauses/exclusions

What about the employment law implications?

According to a Society for Human Resources Management Member Survey about AI usage:

• 79% use AI for recruiting and hiring

• 41% use AI for learning and development

• 38% use AI for performance management

• 18% use AI for productivity monitoring

• 8% use Ai for succession planning

• 4% use AI or promotional decisions

GAI algorithms can also have significant bias for skin color. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released research showing that "not just dark African-American faces, but also Asian faces were up to 100 times more likely to be failed by these systems than the faces of white individuals.”

Then there’s the question of whether recruiters and hiring managers should use AI to read emotions during an an interview. The EU says absolutely not

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken notice. In a panel discussion, Commissioner Keith Sonderling explained, “carefully designed and properly used, AI has potential to enhance diversity and inclusion, accessibility in the workplace by mitigating the risk of unlawful discrimination. Poorly designed and carelessly implemented, AI can discriminate on a scale and magnitude greater than any individual HR professional.” The EEOC also recently settled the first of its kind AI bias case for $365,000.

What to do 

  • Use AI screening tools to disregard name, sec, age, national origin, etc.
  • Use bots for interviews to eliminate bias because of accents
  • Check local laws such as New York City's automated decision tools guidance for employers
  • Be careful about training large language models on current workforce data because that can perpetuate existing bias
  • Review the EEOC Resource on AI

Questions to Ask Your Clients:

• How are you integrating human rights considerations into your company's strategy and decision-making processes, particularly concerning the deployment and use of new technologies?

• Can you describe how your company's corporate governance structure accounts for human rights and ethical considerations, particularly with regards to the use and impact of emerging technologies?

• How does your company approach balancing the need for innovation and competitive advantage with the potential societal and human rights impact of technologies like facial recognition and surveillance?

• As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices?

• Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?

• How is your organization addressing the potential for algorithmic bias in your technology, which can perpetuate and exacerbate systemic inequalities?

• What steps are you taking to ensure digital accessibility and inclusivity, thereby avoiding the risk of creating or enhancing digital divides?

• How is your company taking into account the potential environmental impacts of your technology, including e-waste and energy consumption, and what steps are being taken to mitigate these risks while promoting sustainable development?

• Are you at risk of a false advertising or unfair/deceptive trade practices act claim from the FTC or other regulatory body due to your use of AI?

Whether or not you're an AI expert or use GAI in your practice now, it's time to raise these issues with your clients. Future posts will address other legal issues and the ethical implications of using AI in legal practice. 

October 13, 2023 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Human Rights, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 28, 2023

Is Your Law School Ready for Generative AI? Fifteen Questions You Should Consider

Greetings from SEALS, where I've just left a packed room of law professors grappling with some thorny issues related to ChatGPT4, Claude 2, Copilot, and other forms of generative AI. I don't have answers to the questions below and some are well above my pay grade, but I am taking them into account as I prepare to teach courses in transactional skills; compliance, corporate governance, and sustainability; and ethics and technology this Fall.

In no particular order, here are some of the questions/points raised during the three-hour session. I'll have more thoughts on using AI in the classroom in a future post.

  1. AI detectors that schools rely on have high false positives for nonnative speakers and neurodivergent students and they are easy to evade. How can you reliably ensure that students aren't using AI tools such as ChatGPT if you've prohibited it?
  2. If we allow the use of AI in classrooms, how do we change how we assess students?
  3. If our goal is to teach the mastery of legal skills, what are the legal skills we should teach related to the use of AI? How will our students learn critical thinking skills if they can rely on generative AI?
  4. How should we keep up with the rapid pace of change?
  5. How will adjuncts use AI with our students if they are already integrating it into their practice? Alternatively, will adjuncts see the use of AI as cheating?
  6. If students use papers as writing samples, should there be attestations indicating that they are AI free? Same question for journals/law reviews.
  7. Can clinicians and others use generative AI to help with access to justice? If so, how can we ensure that the information is reliable and not a hallucination??
  8. How should schools assess faculty coming up for promotion and tenure? Will junior faculty feel pressured to rely on AI to be more productive?
  9. Can generative AI be helpful with students with disabilities and neurodivergent students? AI tools can help with creating study schedules, note taking (organizing by topic), time management, summarizing large articles, staying on task, academic support tool, ascertaining how long will tasks take, planning meals and more. If a policy prohibits the use of generative AI in the classroom, should its use be a reasonable accommodation?
  10. Do we as faculty members have the growth mindset to deal with this change? Or will we teach the way we always do, which may do a disservice to our students. How do we prepare our students to deal with generative AI in practice?
  11. Do you need a uniform policy or should each professor have their own policy? Should the default policy be that students cannot use it for work that gets academic credit unless the professor has specifically opted in?
  12. Should we embrace AI especially for students who can’t write? Is using ChatGPT any different from using a calculator? Is it any different from asking a partner for a template so you don't have to start from scratch?
  13. Should we use more in-class exams? Should they be closed book? Do we need more oral presentations? How might this affect space planning at exam time?
  14. Should class participation count for more than it already does?
  15. If you're not familiar with generative AI tools, where should you start?

How many of these questions have  you asked yourself, your colleagues, or your dean? If you have some best practices or thoughts, please share them in the comments. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 28, 2023 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Law Firms, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Mental Health Crisis in the Legal Profession

If you follow me on LinkedIn, you know that I posted almost every day in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.
 
Last week,  I had the opportunity to discuss mental health and well being for an AmLaw 20 firm (one of my coaching clients) that opened the presentation up to all of its legal professionals. Hundreds registered. Too often, firms or companies focus on those with the highest salaries. As a former paralegal, I know how stressful that job can be. And I know I could never have done my job as a lawyer without the talented legal professionals who supported me.

Here are some scary statistics that I shared from the most recent ALM Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey.

If you’re a law firm leader or work with legal professionals in any capacity, please read the report and take action. If you can’t get rid of the billable hour (which would solve a lot of issues), think about how you allocate work, respond to unreasonable client demands, and reward toxic perfectionism and overwork. 

✅ 71% of the nearly 3,000 lawyers surveyed said they had anxiety

✅ 45% said their morale has not changed since the pandemic

✅ 38% said they dealt with depression

✅ 31% struggled with another mental health issue

✅ 44% said they knew co-workers who struggled with alcoholism

✅ 15% said they knew someone in the profession who died by suicide in the past two years

✅ Over 50% of said they “felt a sense of failure or self-doubt, lost emotion, felt increasingly cynical and negative, and had decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment”

✅ A third said they felt “helpless, trapped, detached, or alone in the world.”

✅ More than 60% said they felt overwhelmed, irritable and exhausted or struggled to concentrate

✅ 28.1% used all of their vacation time, but only 31.1% said they could fully disconnect

✅ More than 76% of lawyers blamed their work environment for these problems

✅ 68% cited billable hour pressures

✅ 67% cited the inability to disconnect

✅ 54% cited lack of sleep

✅ 51% of lawyers said they would feel comfortable talking to an offsite professional

✅ Only 33% said they thought that they could take a leave of absence to address their mental health

✅ More than 72% indicated that remote work improved their quality of life

✅ 60% said that some amount of remote work improved their physical well-being.

😮 50% of the lawyers surveyed indicated that the profession is in a mental health crisis.

I see these issues with my students and with the lawyers I coach. Everyone may not have the passion I have to change the profession, but we can all do our part. So what can you do about it? Here are some resources to get you started. 

June 3, 2023 in Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Psychology, Teaching, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2023

Neyland, Bates, and Lv on "Who Are the Best Law Firms?"

Professors Jordan Neyland (George Mason, Antonin Scalia Law School), Tom Bates (Arizona State University), and Roc Lv (ANU/Jiangxi University), have recently posted their article, Who Are the Best Law Firms? Rankings from IPO Performance to SSRN. Here's the Description:

If you have ever wondered who the best law firms are (which lawyer hasn’t?), have a look at our new ranking. My co-authors—Tom Bates at ASU and Roc Lv at ANU/Jiangxi University—and I developed a ranking method based on law firms’ clients’ outcomes in securities markets. 

There is no shortage of recent scandals in rankings in law. In particular, U.S. News’ law school rankings receive criticism for focusing too much on inputs, such as student quality or acceptance rates, instead of student outcomes like job quality and success in public interest careers. Many schools even refuse to submit data or participate in the annual ranking. Similar critiques apply to law firm rankings. We propose that our methodology improves upon existing methods, which frequently use revenue, profit, or other size-related measures to proxy for quality and reputation. Instead, we focus on the most important outcomes for clients: litigation rates, disclosure, pricing, and legal costs.

By focusing on the most relevant outcomes, this ranking system makes it harder for those being ranked to “game the system” without actually producing better results. Moreover, we use multivariate fixed-effect models to control for confounding effects, which provides some assurance that the ranking is based on a law firm’s skill rather than good timing or choosing “better” clients with a lower risk of getting sued.

We suggest that our innovation can provide some guidance and help improve upon extant methods. Rankings can be valuable tools to help evaluate a firm, school, or other institution. Despite the limitations and criticisms of rankings in law, perhaps the solution is to improve the current system instead of withdrawing from it altogether.

March 3, 2023 in Corporations, John Anderson, Law and Economics, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Lawyers, Law Students, and Mental Health

Warning: this post addresses suicide.

I was supposed to post yesterday about a different topic but I'm posting today and not next week because someone needs to read this today.

Maybe it's you. Maybe it's your "strong" friend or colleague.

I found out yesterday that I lost a former student to suicide. She lit up every room she walked into and inspired me, her classmates, and everyone she met. I had no idea she was living in such darkness. Lawyers, law students, compliance professionals, and others in high stress roles are conditioned to be on top of everything. We are the strong ones that clients and colleagues rely on. We worry so much about the stigma of not being completely in control at all times, that we don't get help. We worry that clients won't trust us with sensitive or important matters. We worry that we won't pass the character and fitness assessments to get admitted to the bar. 

The CDC released a report this week showing an alarming rise in depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety among our youth. The report noted that:

  • Female students and LGBQ+ students are experiencing alarming rates of violence, poor mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • The rates of experiencing bullying, sexual violence, poor mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors indicate a need for urgent intervention.

According to nami.org, one of the most respected organizations on the mental health:

1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14 

Those statistics don't surprise me. I have a family member who lost his first friend to suicide at age 12 and has lost almost ten others in the past ten years to suicide or overdoses. I have other family members who have been hospitalized repeatedly for mental health crises and others who refused to get help and were homeless. When people ask my why I care so much about my students and coaching clients, this is why. It's personal for me.

It's why I got mental health first aid certified when the University of Miami offered the training to staff and professors and why I'm often the only lawyer in the room at conferences and trainings with social workers, neuroscientists, and therapists who are getting their certifications. I stay in my lane, of course. But I want to understand more and I want to do my part to help change the profession because lawyers are in the top 10 for rates of suicide. We have disproportionately higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Although I've been a happy lawyer for over thirty years, I know I'm a unicorn.

So here are some resources. This list could be pages long so I've compiled links that also refer to other resources:

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

American Bar Association Mental Health Resources

Mental Health First Aid Training (I highly recommend this training and have completed it myself through my law school)

National Alliance on Mental Illness Resource Directory

Institute for Well Being in Law

Lawyer Assistance Programs by State

ABA Substance Use and Mental Health Toolkit for Law School Students and Those Who Care About Them

If you are a parent, especially of young children, get educated as soon as you can so that you can spot the signs early and support your children so they don't end up in these statistics. Ask your school administrators if they are familiar with the CDC's What Works in Schools Program.  Tell your school board and elected officials that mental health is a priority and vote for candidates who understand this as the public health crisis that it is. Sit down with your kids and watch The Social Dilemma. It may not change their addiction to social media, but it will help you understand why this generation is suffering so much that school districts have filed suit about the mental health impacts.

If you're a law student, check out the resources above. Don't get your health advice from TikTok or Instagram unless it's from a trained professional  (although I did do a TikTok video telling people to get help).

If you're a law professor, do you know where to send your students if they come to you seeking help? I have the cell phone number of our Dean of Students and I know I can reach out to her at any time if I'm worried about a student. I also share my family's story with my students so they feel safe asking for my guidance. I don't act as their therapist, but it's my job to prepare the students for the difficulties of the profession, and not just how to redline a document or argue a motion. 

If you're a law firm partner, consider investing in real training for your lawyers and your staff.  Don't just bring in someone to talk about mindfulness or diversity, equity, and inclusion once a year so you can check that box off. Invest in long-term, consistent, evidence-based training and coaching for your staff and lawyers at all levels (yes, managing partners too). Look at and reconfigure your billable hours requirements and layoff plans. Are they realistic? Are they really necessary? If you're comfortable, share your personal story of dealing with mental health challenges with your associates so they know you're human and have some empathy even as you have them billing over 2000 hours to get a bonus. 

If you're a general counsel, ask your firms about what they do to protect and preserve mental health, just like you ask about DEI initiatives. 

This is resource list is clearly just a start. What resources or tips do you have for those who are struggling in the profession? What will you today? If you do nothing else, share this message with others. It could be a matter of life or death for someone you know. 

February 18, 2023 in Current Affairs, Family, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Can The Next Generation of Lawyers Save the World?

An ambitious question, yes, but it was the title of the presentation I gave at the Society for Socio-Economists Annual Meeting, which closed yesterday. Thanks to Stefan Padfield for inviting me.

In addition to teaching Business Associations to 1Ls this semester and running our Transactional Skills program, I'm also teaching Business and Human Rights. I had originally planned the class for 25 students, but now have 60 students enrolled, which is a testament to the interest in the topic. My pre-course surveys show that the students fall into two distinct camps. Most are interested in corporate law but didn't know even know there was a connection to human rights. The minority are human rights die hards who haven't even taken business associations (and may only learn about it for bar prep), but are curious about the combination of the two topics. I fell in love with this relatively new legal  field twelve years ago and it's my mission to ensure that future transactional lawyers have some exposure to it.

It's not just a feel-good way of looking at the world. Whether you love or hate ESG, business and human rights shows up in every factor and many firms have built practice areas around it. Just last week, the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive came into force. Like it or not, business lawyers must know something about human rights if they deal with any company that has or is part of a supply or value chain or has disclosure requirements. 

At the beginning of the semester, we discuss the role of the corporation in society. In many classes, we conduct simulations where students serve as board members, government officials, institutional investors, NGO leaders, consumers, and others who may or may not believe that the role of business is business. Every year, I also require the class to examine the top 10 business and human rights topics as determined by the Institute of Human Rights and Business (IHRB). In 2022, the top issues focused on climate change:

  1. State Leadership-Placing people at the center of government strategies in confronting the climate crisis
  2. Accountable Finance- Scaling up efforts to hold financial actors to their human rights and environmental responsibilities
  3. Dissenting Voices- Ensuring developmental and environmental priorities do not silence land rights defenders and other critical voices
  4. Critical Commodities- Addressing human rights risks in mining to meet clean energy needs
  5. Purchasing Power- Using the leverage of renewable energy buyers to accelerate a just transition
  6. Responsible Exits- Constructing rights-based approaches to buildings and infrastructure mitigation and resilience
  7. Green Building- Building and construction industries must mitigate impacts while avoiding corruption, reducing inequality, preventing harm to communities, and providing economic opportunities
  8. Agricultural Transitions- Decarbonising the agriculture sector is critical to maintaining a path toward limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees
  9. Transforming Transport- The transport sector, including passenger and freight activity, remains largely carbon-based and currently accounts for approximately 23% total energy-related CO2 global greenhouse gas emissions
  10. Circular Economy- Ensure “green economy” is creating sustainable jobs and protecting workers

The 2023 list departs from the traditional type of list and looks at the people who influence the decisionmakers in business. That's the basis of the title of this post and yesterday's presentation. The 2023 Top Ten are:

  1. Strategic Enablers- Scrutinizing the role of management consultants in business decisions that harm communities and wider society. Many of our students work outside of the law as consultants or will work alongside consultants. With economic headwinds and recessionary fears dominating the headlines, companies and law firms are in full layoff season. What factors should advisors consider beyond financial ones, especially if the work force consists of primarily lower-paid, low-skilled labor, who may not be able to find new employment quickly? Or should financial considerations prevail?
  2. Capital Providers- Holding investors to account for adverse impacts on people- More than 220 investors collectively representing US$30 trillion in assets under management  have signed a public statement acknowledging the importance of human rights impacts in investment and global prosperity. Many financial firms also abide by the Equator Principles, a benchmark that helps those involved in project finance to determine environmental and social impacts from financing. Our students will serve as counsel to banks,  financial firms, private equity, and venture capitalists. Many financial institutions traditionally focus on shareholder maximization but this could be an important step in changing that narrative. 
  3. Legal Advisors- Establishing norms and responsible performance standards for lawyers and others who advise companies. ABA Model Rule 2.1 guides lawyers to have candid conversations that "may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client's situation." Business and human rights falls squarely in that category. Additionally, the ABA endorsed the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ten years ago and released model supply chain contractual clauses related to human rights in 2021. Last Fall, the International Bar Association's Annual Meeting had a whole track directed to business and human rights issues. Our students advise on sanctions, bribery, money laundering, labor relations, and a host of other issues that directly impact human rights. I'm glad to see this item on the Top 10 list. 
  4. Risk Evaluators- Reforming the role of credit rating agencies and those who determine investment worthiness of states and companies. Our students may have heard of S&P, Moody's, & Fitch but may not know of the role those entities played in the 2008 financial crisis and the role they play now when looking at sovereign debt.  If the analysis from those entities  are flawed or laden with conflicts of interest or lack of accountability, those ratings can indirectly impact the government's ability to provide goods and services for the most vulnerable citizens.
  5. Systems Builders- Embedding human rights considerations in all stages of computer technology. If our students work in house or for governments, how can they advise tech companies working with AI, surveillance, social media, search engines and the spread of (mis)nformation? What ethical responsibilities do tech companies have and how can lawyers help them wrestle with these difficult issues?
  6. City Shapers-  Strengthening accountability and transformation in real estate finance and construction. Real estate constitutes 60% of global assets. Our students need to learn about green finance, infrastructure spending, and affordable housing and to speak up when there could be human rights impacts in the projects they are advising on. 
  7. Public Persuaders- Upholding standards so that advertising and PR companies do not undermine human rights. There are several legal issues related to advertising and marketing. Our students can also play a role in advising companies, in accordance with ethical rule 2.1, about persuaders presenting human rights issues and portraying controversial topics related to gender, race, indigenous peoples, climate change in a respectful and honest manner. 
  8. Corporate Givers- Aligning philanthropic priorities with international standards and the realities of the most vulnerable. Many large philanthropists look at charitable giving as investments (which they are) and as a way to tackle intractable social problems. Our students can add a human rights perspective as advisors, counsel, and board members to ensure that organizations give to lesser known organizations that help some of the forgotten members of society. Additionally, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer note that a shared-value approach, "generat[es] economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. A shared value approach reconnects company success with social progress. Firms can do this in three distinct ways: by reconceiving products and markets, redefining productivity in the value chain, and building supportive industry clusters at the company's locations." Lawyers can and should play a role in this. 
  9. Business Educators- Mainstreaming human rights due diligence into management, legal, and other areas of academic training. Our readers teaching in business and law schools and focusing on ESG can discuss business and human rights under any of the ESG factors. If you don't know where to start, the ILO has begun signing MOUs with business schools around the world to increase the inclusion of labor rights in business school curricula. If you're worried that it's too touchy feely to discuss or that these topics put you in the middle of the ESG/anti-woke debate, remember that many of these issues relate directly to enterprise risk management- a more palatable topic for most business and legal leaders. 
  10. Information Disseminators- Ensuring that journalists, media, and social media uphold truth and public interest. A couple of years ago, "fake news" was on the Top 10 and with all that's going on in the world with lack of trust in the media and political institutions, lawyers can play a role in representing reporters and media outlets. Similarly, lawyers can explain the news objectively and help serve as fact checkers when appearing in news outlets.

If you've made it to the end of this post, you're either nodding in agreement or shaking your head violently in disagreement. I expect many of my students will feel the same, and I encourage that disagreement. But it's my job to expose students to these issues. As they learn about ESG from me and the press, it's critical that they disagree armed with information from all sides.

So can the next generation of lawyers save the world? Absolutely yes, if they choose to. 

January 14, 2023 in Business Associations, Business School, Compliance, Conferences, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Private Equity, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 23, 2022

Give Yourself the Gift of Understanding Contract Drafting and Negotiation In Miami or Virtually February 2023

It's the holidays and it's time to treat yourself and members of your team to practical training and fantastic networking in sunny Miami in February. We don't have bomb cyclones down here. The Transactional Skills Program at the University of Miami School of Law couldn't be more excited to host the How to Contract Conference from February 15-17, 2023. 

Thumbnail_ContractsCon Flyer - 1 page (12-23-2022)

  • ContractsCon is a training and networking EXTRAVAGANZA focused on the practical contract drafting and negotiating skills that in-house counsel and contracts professionals need to know. 
  • This event is a zero-fluff, to-the-point training on the nitty-gritty details. ContractsCon includes:
    • speakers who get the in-house experience and can explain why we draft the way we do
    • training centered around provision-level playbooks for you and your company to use when you return to work
    • workshops that provide a deeper dive into more nuanced topics and include interactive group activities
    • ContractsCon Playbook, featuring the advice and drafting approaches discussed at ContractsCon
    • access to How to Contract’s SaaS Contracts Training Library, with 20+ hours of training videos, the Cloud Services Agreement Playbook, and lots more (through March 31, 2023)
    • CLE pending in 26 states for up to 7 hours for virtual ticket holders and up to 13 hours for in-person attendees
  • ContractsCon is an annual training and networking event for in-house counsel and  contract professionals presented by How to Contract and Law Insider and hosted by University of Miami School of Law. This 2-day event will feature over 20 live training sessions with some of the most well-known contract experts.
  • Our promise is to share with you the core skills and expertise you need to work in-house on commercial contracts. All you have to do is show up ready to learn.
  • ContractsCon is designed for in-house lawyers and professionals who want to learn:
    • the insights and techniques needed to handle the commercial contracts filling their inbox every day,
    • how experienced lawyers manage risk, work efficiently, and make the hard decisions in challenging circumstances,
    • WHAT to say, WHY to say it that way, and HOW to reach the best-negotiated deal you can with your contract counterparties.
  • Give us two days of your time and you'll walk away with enhanced skills that enable you to better protect your company and clients. You'll gain more confidence.  You'll finally leave those "I don't know" and "I'm not sure" frustrations behind you. You'll also be able to network with other lawyers and professionals who share your desire to improve your skills and overcome any traces of imposter syndrome. 

Click here to get your ticket. And I'll see you in Miami, mojito in hand (after I do my session, of course).

December 23, 2022 in Conferences, Contracts, Corporations, Current Affairs, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Negotiation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 7, 2022

How to Contract Conference- February 16-17 in Miami

I had originally planned to post Pt. 2 of the blog post I did a couple of weeks ago, but this announcement is time sensitive.

I'm thrilled to announce that the Transactional Skills Program at the University of Miami School of Law is partnering with Laura Frederick for the second How to Contract conference. It's time sensitive because we are considering holding a side event with a contract drafting and negotiation competition for law students if there's enough interest. If you think you would be interested, please email me at [email protected].

For lawyers, there are virtual and live options for the contract conference. I've cut and pasted from the website so you can see why you should come to sunny Miami (and it won't be hurricane season):

It is not about the mega deals.

ContractsCon is about the contracts you work on EVERY DAY. We want to help you learn how to draft and negotiate the deals you see all the time.

Because for every 100-page specialized contract sent to outside counsel, there are thousands of smaller but important ones that in-house counsel and professionals do day in and day out.

ContractsCon focuses on how we manage risk and make the tough decisions with less time and information than we need.

It is not a summary of recent case law.

ContractsCon is about providing actionable advice to help you do the work that you have sitting in your inbox RIGHT NOW.

It's not about case names or citations and we don't get into academic explanations.

ContractsCon focuses on the real-world expertise from experienced practitioners that you need to improve your contract skills and expertise and become better at drafting and negotiating in the real world.

It is not going to put you to sleep.

ContractsCon is about the fun and awesomeness of contracts. We are organizing it to be a true lovefest for everything contracts.  

Why not combine learning about contracts with having fun?

You'll meet other lawyers and professionals passionate about contract drafting and negotiating. Our sessions and workshops feature contracting superstars who love what they do and will share their excitement with you. Plus we're planning a ton of activities on-site and online to keep you engaged. 

ContractsCon is designed for in-house lawyers and professionals who want to learn:

  • the insights and techniques needed to handle the commercial contracts filling their inbox every day,
  • how experienced lawyers manage risk, work efficiently, and make the hard decisions in challenging circumstances,
  • WHAT to say, WHY to say it that way, and HOW to reach the best-negotiated deal you can with your contract counterparties.

Virtual ticket holders get access to 6 HOURS of no-fluff practical contract training by experienced practicing lawyers.

People who attend in person in Miami get 12 HOURS of training, including 6 hours of interactive skills workshops.

I hope to see you in Miami in a few months. Don't forget to follow Laura Frederick on LinkedIn for great contract drafting tips and to let me know whether you and your students might be interested in participating in a contract drafting competition. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 7, 2022 in Commercial Law, Conferences, Contracts, Corporations, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, M&A, Marcia Narine Weldon, Negotiation, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Post-pandemic evolution, change management, and the role of in-house counsel

Join me in sunny Miami on April 26 for this in-person conference featuring outside counsel, inhouse practitioners, and academics. 

Panel topics include:

Change Management: The Legal Department of the Future -  More and more, in-house legal departments are employing new hybrid and remote work models, incorporating artificial intelligence and technology in their workflows, and restructuring and absorbing new teams after mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. This panel discussion will focus on how the in-house legal department can be a champion in leading successful developmental and transformational change by implementing change management best practices to be effective and efficient, remaining client-focused, and being a trusted business advisor.

Remote Work:  Accelerated Adoption and Related Challenges - Which option would you choose: on-site, hybrid, or virtual? We will discuss the pros and cons of remote work arrangements, including the challenges of implementing a remote work policy in Latin America where the legal framework is a complex patchwork of requirements, as well as the strategies for creating culture and building a team in a remote work environment.

Counseling the Board of Directors (the panel I'm on)-  This panel will focus on issues that arise when counseling the board of directors and address important topics, including governance, ethics, fiduciary duties, director liability, best practices (diversity and environmental, social, and governance (ESG)), privileged insurance, and D&O insurance all in the context of private and public companies operating in the United States and Latin America.

Supply Chain: Challenges and Opportunities- Lessons learned from recent disruptions in global supply chains will shape crossborder business in the coming years. Our panel will discuss short- and long-term challenges and opportunities in supply chain management and logistics, as well as practical strategies for using technology, contractual protections, and risk-transfer solutions to overcome future supply-chain challenges.

What Is Your Company’s ESG Score? This panel will discuss the origins of climate change management, sustainability and how to operationalize it at your company, as well as how to transition to a low-carbon economy— including standards and disclosures. Panelists will also discuss the importance of implementing mechanisms to adopt a company’s ESG score as an ethical obligation to company commitments and as a governance imperative.

Click here to register.

If you make it down to Miami, I promise to buy you a mojito or cafecito. And don't worry, hurricane season doesn't start until June. 

 

March 25, 2022 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Firms, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Resolution for Lawyers

People rarely keep resolutions, much less ones they don’t make for themselves, but here are some you may want to try.

  1. Post information about the law and current events that lay people can understand on social media. You don’t need to be a TikTok lawyer and dance around, but there’s so much misinformation out there by “influencers” that lawyers almost have a responsibility to correct the record.
  2. Embrace legal tech. Change is scary for most lawyers, but we need to get with the times, and you can start off in areas such as legal research, case management, accounting, billing, document automation and storage, document management, E-discovery, practice management, legal chatbots, automaton of legal workflow, contract management, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based applications. Remember, lawyers have an ethical duty of technological competence.
  3. Learn about legal issues related to the metaverse such as data privacy and IP challenges.
  4. Do a data security audit and ensure you understand where your and your clients’ data is and how it’s being transmitted, stored, and destroyed. Lawyers have access to valuable confidential information and hackers know that. Lawyers also have ethical obligations to safeguard that information. Are you communicating with clients on WhatsApp or text messages? Do you have Siri or Alexa enabled when you’re talking about client matters? You may want to re-think that. Better yet, hire a white hat hacker to assess your vulnerabilities. I'll do a whole separate post on this because this is so critical. 
  5. Speaking of data, get up to speed on data analytics. Your clients use data every day to optimize their business performance. Compliance professionals and in-house lawyers know that this is critical. All lawyers should as well.
  6. Get involved with government affairs. Educate legislators, write comment letters, and publish op-ed pieces so that people making the laws and influencing lawmakers can get the benefit of your analytical skills. Just make sure you’re aware of the local, state, and federal lobbying laws.
  7. Learn something completely new. When you do your CLE requirement, don’t just take courses in your area of expertise. Take a class that has nothing to do with what you do for a living. If you think that NFTs and cryptocurrency are part of a fad waiting to implode, take that course. You’ll either learn something new or prove yourself right.
  8. Re-think how you work. What can you stop, start, and continue doing in your workplace and family life?
  9. Be strategic when thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lawyers talk about it, but from what I observe in my lawyer coaching practice and the statistics, the reality is much different on the ground and efforts often backfire.
  10. Prioritize your mental health and that of the members on your team. Do you need to look at billable hours requirements? What behavior does your bonus or promotion system incentivize? What else can you do to make sure that people are valued and continually learning? When was the last time you conducted an employee engagement survey and really listened to what you team members are saying? Whether your team is remote or hybrid, what can you do to make people believe they are part of a larger mission? There are so many resources out there. If you do nothing else on this list, please focus on this one. If you want help on how to start, send me an email.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.

December 31, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Film, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Since the Pandemic is Still with Us . . .

 . . . I figure it is still OK to publish a link to the SSRN posting of my co-authored article from the 2020 Business Law Prof Blog symposium, Connecting the Threads.  Published earlier in the spring, this piece, entitled Business Law and Lawyering in the Wake of COVID-19, was written with two of my students: Anne Crisp (who will start her 3L year in about a month) and Gray Martin (who graduated in May and will take the bar exam next week).  My March 30, 2021 post on business interruption insurance came from this article.  The SSRN abstract is included below.

The public arrival of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus 2019) in the United States in early 2020 brought with it many social, political, and economic dislocations and pressures. These changes and stresses included and fostered adjustments in business law and the work of business lawyers. This article draws attention to these COVID-19 transformations as a socio-legal reflection on business lawyering, the provision of legal services in business settings, and professional responsibility in business law practice. While business law practitioners, like other lawyers, may have been ill-prepared for pandemic lawyering, we have seen them rise to the occasion to provide valuable services, gain and refresh knowledge and skills, and evolve their business operations. These changes have brought with them various professional responsibility and ethical challenges, all of which are ongoing at the time this is being written.

No doubt both the changes to business lawyering and the lessons learned from the many substantive, practical, and ethical challenges that have arisen in the wake of COVID-19 will survive the pandemic in some form. This offers some comfort. While the thought of another systemic global crisis is unappealing at best, what we have experienced and learned will no doubt be useful in maneuvering and surviving through whatever the future may bring.

This article came to be because I agreed to take on additional research assistants after summer jobs were scuttled for many students in the spring of 2020.  I shared the germ of an idea with Anne and Gray.  They took that idea and ran with it, adding important new concepts and support.  The writing collaboration naturally followed.  They co-presented the article with me at the symposium back in October.  Working with them throughout was so joyful and fun--a true pandemic silver lining.

July 19, 2021 in Contracts, Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Ethics, Joan Heminway, Law Firms, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 12, 2021

COVID-19 and Lawyers Working from Home

A few weeks ago, I posted on COVID-19 and business interruption insurance, quoting from part of a forthcoming coauthored article presented at the Business Law Prof Blog symposium last fall.  This week, I am posting a few more teaser paragraphs from that same article, which focuses overall on business law issues, practice changes, and professional responsibility challenges emanating from the pandemic.  Today's excerpts focus on lawyers working from home.  Second-year UT Law student Anne Crisp is the primary author of the part of the paper that includes these paragraphs (from which footnotes have been omitted).

 . . . While the work-from-home movement was already taking off in many sectors prior to COVID-19, the legal sector had been slow to adopt this working model. Leaving aside multijurisdictional practice challenges, lawyer resistance to remote work has been attributed in large part to the perceived relationship-based nature of lawyering and the perception that at least some clients expect to meet with their legal counsel in well-appointed offices. But along came COVID-19, and lawyers could no longer avoid the pull of the work-from-home movement. If lawyers wanted to bill hours, they were going to have to work from home.

As lawyers began working from home, law offices were forced to enhance their technological resources and capabilities to meet the needs of the firm and to confront the technological challenges associated with such developments. Issues around laptop-versus-desktop use, home Wi-Fi capacity and security, and virtual private networks emerged as pressing problems to address. Lawyers, like everyone else in the world, began using videoconferencing and telecommunication platforms such as Zoom to meet with clients, colleagues, and the courts on a regular basis, rather than in specific circumstances. Lawyers adapted to the work-from-home model not by choice, but out of necessity.

Law firms also had to address security concerns that arise as a result of remote working. Malware infections, hacking, and other challenges are more difficult to prevent once workers are no longer regularly connected to a law office’s computer network. Firms with appropriate cybersecurity systems in place had to ramp up their availability to cover more workers; those without appropriate security technologies needed to acquire and implements them on an urgent basis.

Moreover, communication complications became manifest, and the need to address them holistically became important. “In a remote working world, everyone’s delegation/supervision/feedback skills must be even better—more frequent, more clear and more realistic—than usual.” For example, in a private firm, a practice group leader may need to intentionally ask how an individual is doing because the leader can no longer gauge this based on their interaction with the individual in the office. Junior lawyers in office settings must be more transparent and realistic about their own constraints as their home environments change. It has also become more important for junior lawyers to take clear ownership of the work they are doing so that senior lawyers, whose focus is on more directly helping clients navigate the issues arising, can more easily monitor who is working on what and keep track of the status of projects. Before the pandemic, communication challenges of the kinds mentioned here may have been barriers to lawyers working from home. Now, lawyers have no choice but to overcome them.

While the work-from-home movement has presented new challenges surrounding security and communication, it has also produced some positive effects. Working from home often creates a more relaxed work environment that has been shown to lead to more creativity. Additionally, lawyers are enjoying the benefits of having no commute. Many lawyers have liked working from home so much that they hope to continue to do so once the pandemic is over. It remains to be seen whether law firms will allow them to continue to do so in a post-pandemic world.

There is so much I could say about all this.  But I will confine myself here to two points, both stemming from the text of that last quoted paragraph. The positive aspects of lawyers' adaptive work-from-home lives generate their own set of challenges. 

First, law firms are making decisions about the extent to which they will allow work-from-home after the pandemic.  (So are law schools.)  The managing shareholder of a regional law firm's Knoxville office participated in my Advanced Business Associations class last week, and he indicated his concern that new and junior associates be physically present in the office in order to ensure that they are exposed and acclimate to the firm's culture. 

Second, return-to-the-workplace mandates will result in some bumpy transitions back to full in-person operations.  Child, elder, and general family care routines devised for use during the pandemic may be as (or more) difficult to unwind than they were to create.  For many, it is not an option to merely go back to the way things were before COVID-19.

I suspect that, as we come out of the pandemic, different firms will handle 2021 work location transitions in different ways based on their size, market, reputation, culture, and more.  The type of work being performed by the lawyers and client preference are likely to play specific guiding roles in the analysis.  This certainly will be an area to watch.

April 12, 2021 in Joan Heminway, Law Firms, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Business Case For Promoting Lawyer Well-Being

It's been one year since the US declared a pandemic. It's been a stressful time for everyone, but this post will focus on lawyers.

I haven't posted any substantive legal content on LinkedIn in weeks because so many of my woo woo, motivational posts have been resonating with my contacts. They've shared the posts, and lawyers from around the world have reached out to me thanking me for sharing positive, inspirational messages. I hope that this care and compassion in the (my) legal community will continue once people return back to the office.

Earlier this week, I took a chance and posted about a particularly dark period in my life. I've now received several requests to connect and to speak to legal groups and law firms about mindset, wellness, resilience, and stress management. I've heard from executives that I used to work with 15 years ago asking to reconnect. Others have publicly or privately shared their own struggles with mental health or depression. I'm attaching a link to the video here. Warning- it addresses suicide prevention, but it may help someone. 

I'm also sharing an article that my colleague Jarrod Reich wrote last year. He and I have just finished sitting on a panel on Corporate Counsel and Professional Responsibility Post COVID-19, and it's clear that the issue of lawyers and mental health could have been its own symposium. Here is the abstract for his article, Capitalizing on Healthy Lawyers: The Business Case for Law Firms to Promote and Prioritize Lawyer Well-Being. 

This Article is the first to make the business case for firms to promote and prioritize lawyer well-being. For more than three decades, quantitative research has demonstrated that lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, and addiction far in excess of the general population. Since that time, there have been many calls within and outside the profession for changes to be made to promote, prioritize, and improve lawyer well-being, particularly because many aspects of the current law school and law firm models exacerbate mental health and addiction issues, as well as overall law student and lawyer distress. These calls for change, made on moral and humanitarian grounds, largely have been ignored; in fact, over the years the pervasiveness of mental health and addiction issues within the profession have persisted, if not increased. This Article argues that these moral- and humanitarian-based calls for change have gone unheeded because law firms have not had financial incentives to respond to them.

In making the business case for change, this Article argues that systemic changes designed to support and resources to lawyers will avoid costs associated with lawyer mental health and addiction issues and, more importantly, create efficiencies that will increase firms’ long-term financial stability and growth. It demonstrates that this business case is especially strong now in light of not only societal and generational factors, but also changes within the profession itself well. As firms have begun to take incremental steps to promote lawyer well-being, lasting and meaningful change will further benefit firms’ collective bottom lines as it will improve: (1) performance, as clients are demanding efficiency in the way their matters are staffed and billed; (2) retention, as that creates efficiencies and the continuous relationships demanded by clients; and (3) recruitment, particularly as younger millennial and Generation Z lawyers—who prioritize mental health and well-being—enter the profession.

If you have any feedback on Jarrod's article or tips on how you are coping, surviving, or thriving in these times, please feel free to drop them in the comments. 

Take care and stay safe.

March 12, 2021 in Current Affairs, Law Firms, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Psychology, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Celebration of Harvest

IMG_9322 (1)

(A bit of the harvest picked from my parent's garden in north Georgia yesterday)

Last Thursday my neighborhood book club discussed work by poet David Whyte. This book club has been especially life-giving during the pandemic. I have deep admiration for every member of the group and always learn from our meetings. In March and April, we briefly moved to Zoom, but were unable to capture the same energy. We then decided to meet in person, bringing chairs to a member’s spacious driveway that backs up to common green space.

The work we discussed last week was not actually a book, but rather a few hours of David Whyte’s musings, only available in audio form. Much of the talk involves Whyte reading poetry – primarily his own, Rainer Maria Rilke’s and Mary Oliver’s – and relating that poetry to questions many of us ponder in midlife.

While I can’t locate the exact quote in the long recording, Whyte used a harvesting metaphor effectively. Whyte suggests that if we don’t slow down to be present for the harvest times in our lives, the fruit will rot on the vine. He reminds us, for example, that our child will only be five years old for a relatively short season. By being present for the harvest, I think Whyte means celebrate (among other things).

The practice of law, at least as it appears to be carried out by most major firms, leaves precious little time for celebration. In fact, during my handful of years at two major law firms, I can only recall a single occasion of truly pausing to celebrate the harvest.

This occasion involved a closing dinner. A celebratory dinner after closing a deal to buy or sell a company is relatively common in M&A practice. In my somewhat limited experience, however, law firms often organized these dinners to impress clients and tee up future deals. Networking, not savoring, is the focus. Often only the partners and clients attend closing dinners. The associates (or at least the junior associates) are usually back in the office working on the next matter.

This dinner was different. King & Spalding partner Russ Richards had just closed two relatively large deals in the same week with the assistance of same four associate attorneys. While the hours had been grueling, even by BigLaw standards, I didn’t expect to be invited to a closing dinner. Surprisingly, Russ not only invited the other three associates and me, but also encouraged us to bring a dates. Moreover, this was not a dinner to impress the clients; no clients were invited. We did not spend much time, if any, setting up future deals. We just celebrated work well done with wonderful wine, food, and company.

If there were more of this sort of unadulterated celebration of the harvest in BigLaw, I imagine the turnover would be much lower. And maybe one of the reasons Russ Richards excelled in a 45+ year career with the same firm is because he created moments of celebration and reflection like these. As I have argued before, I think one of the ways to make BigLaw more humane is to work in some time for celebration and rejuvenation, perhaps in the form of sabbaticals. A formal promotion to “senior associate” around the four-year mark, followed by a brief sabbatical (even as short as one month) would do wonders for the profession. Even longer sabbaticals, perhaps tied to a project improving the community, could be worthwhile as well.

Of course life is not, and probably should not be, constant celebration. To stretch Whyte’s metaphor further—as anyone who has tried their hand at farming knows—fruit that is the product of a season of sweat tastes sweeter than fruit obtained from a grocery deliver service. The gritty, difficult, back-spasm-inducing times are an important part of the process. That said, especially for those of us bent more in the direction of overwork, making some space to celebrate the harvest is essential.

Finally, and importantly, we should make a point to notice and celebrate the achievements of others. Whyte seems to focus on being present for the fruition of our own work, but I am convinced that pausing to celebrate the accomplishments of others can be even more worthwhile. 

August 2, 2020 in Books, Haskell Murray, Law Firms, Lawyering, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Law Firm Mandatory Arbitration On the Decline?

When I was a number of years into my law practice, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager & Flom LLP, the firm at which I worked, asked me to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement.  Signing was voluntary, but the course of conduct indicated that it was strongly suggested.  I thought about it and declined to sign.  

It was hard for me to imagine bringing a legal claim against my law firm employer.  I knew that if I were to sue Skadden, the matter would have to be very big and very serious--a claim for a harm that I would not want compensated through a "compromise recovery," which I understood could be a likely result in arbitration.  I also was concerned about the lack of precedential value of an arbitration award for that kind of significant claim--permitting systemic bad employer behavior to be swept under the rug.  And finally, I understood and respected the litigation expertise and experience of my colleagues in the firm and their connections to those outside the firm--expertise, experience, and connections that I believed would be more likely to impact negatively the opportunity for success on the merits of my claim in an arbitral setting.

I watched with interest as arbitration clauses caught on in this context, becoming (in many firms) a condition of employment.  Other BLPB editors have written about mandatory arbitration in the employment law context in this space in the past, including Ann Lipton here and Marcia Narine Weldon here.  The issue also has been raised by other bloggers and in the news media.  I remember stories about summer associate mandatory arbitration classes, for example.  (See, e.g., here and here from 2018.)

I recently read this article from The American Lawyer, which describes a trend away from these mandatory arbitration clauses in law firm employment.  What goes around comes around . . . .  I was especially interested to read that some firms are dispensing with the practice because employees/prospective employees disfavor these agreements.  I also noted the article's description of key substantive arguments against mandatory arbitration:  "[T]he clauses are unfair to workers and can allow large law firms to conceal accusations of racism, sexual harassment and assault."  This is consistent with my own reasoning.  Moreover, I admit that, as I was contemplating whether to sign Skadden's arbitration clause, sexual misconduct was among the big and very serious claims I determined that I would want to pursue in court--for remedy-related and public disclosure reasons.

Although the firm's leadership may have disapproved of my refusal to sign that agreement way back when, I still think I made the right decision--at least for me.  If arbitration is mutually beneficial, one would hope that both parties would recognize that at the outset of their relationship or at the time a dispute arises.  Otherwise, power imbalances tend to dominate in this space.  Dispute resolution situations also may involve emotional and psychological factors that can impact judgment and strategy.  Regardless, I am a "preserve as many options as possible" kind of gal.  As a result, taking a position that maintains my rights to sue or participate in a class action claim seems natural and appropriate.  I will hold onto those rights, if I can.

October 7, 2019 in ADR, Joan Heminway, Jobs, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, August 2, 2019

How (Not) To Teach an (Online) Transactional Drafting Course

Later today, the students in my nine-week online Transactional Lawyering: Drafting and Negotiating Contracts Course will breathe a sigh of relief. They will submit their final contracts, and their work will be done. They can now start reading for their Fall classes knowing that they have completed the work for their required writing credit. My work, on the other hand, won’t end for quite a while. Although this post will discuss teaching an online course, much of my advice would work for a live, in person class as well.

If you’ve ever taught a transactional drafting course, you know that’s a lot of work. You are in a seemingly never ending cycle of developing engaging content, teaching the material, answering questions, reviewing drafts, and grading the final product. Like any writing course, you’re in constant editing and feedback mode with the students.

If you’ve ever taught an online course, you know how much work it can be. I taught asynchronously, meaning I uploaded materials and the students had a specific time within which to complete assignments, typically one week or more. Fortunately, I had help from the University of Miami’s instructional design team, otherwise, I would likely have been a disaster. They provided me with a template for each module, which forced me to really think through the objectives for each class session, not just the course as a whole. In my traditional courses I have learning objectives, but I have never gone into so much detail either in my head or in writing about what I wanted the student to get out of each individual class.

Teaching a drafting course online was much more work than I expected, but I can’t wait to do it again. If you’re thinking about it, learn from my travails and triumphs. First, here are my suggested “Do’s”:

  1. Find a way to build community: I wanted to ensure that students felt connected to me. I scripted a welcome video and the instructional design team filmed and edited it. This way students saw my face. I wanted the students to see each other as well, so I required them to film a 2-minute introductory video of themselves and upload it so that students could “see” their classmates. Students then commented on their peers’ videos welcoming them to the class. I did short videos for most of the modules, but these did not always show my face. No video was more than 10 minutes long because apparently today’s students can’t pay attention for too much longer than that.
  2. Have students work in groups (at first): I divided the 16 students into 4 law firms based in part on what I saw in their videos. I wanted some diversity of gender, race, and experience in the groups. Students drafted a law firm agreement outlining how they would interact with each other, meet deadlines, and resolve disputes. They also picked a firm name and managing partner. They assessed themselves and each other as group members based on criteria that I provided. The group work minimized the amount of feedback that I had to provide. As a group, they drafted the law firm agreement, a client engagement letter, and worked on a short contract. Some assignments were graded and some were ungraded. The group work counted for 10% of the grade.  This percentage wasn’t enough of the grade to cause panic, and the team assessment ensured that they didn’t slack off and benefit from their peers’ hard work.
  3. Mix it up: For each class, I had students review a presentation on Echo 360. Often, they answered questions that I posed in the presentation or did exercises from Tina Stark’s contract drafting book. On other occasions, they posted responses to prompts on the discussion boards and commented (constructively) on other responses, citing the rule or principle that buttressed their position.
  4. Make them keep track of their time and do a bill: Every lawyer hates tracking time, but it’s a necessity. I tell the students that they’ll thank me later. Each student, even on group assignments had to track their time and turn in a bill. This helped me gauge how the groups and students compared to each other. I also knew which student worked on which parts of the contracts.
  5. Let them negotiate:  After the group work portion of the course ended,the students negotiated the terms of their final contract using a set of secret facts. I required them to develop and turn in a negotiation strategy using materials and videos that I put together. Armed with their BATNAs, WATNAs, and ZOPAs, I told them to spend no more than one hour negotiating. I required them to film their negotiations, upload them, and send them to me. They then worked on individual term sheets (for a grade). After the negotiations ended and I had received all term sheets, I released the secret facts and had the students assess themselves and their opposing counsel on their negotiation skills and tactics. I also provided feedback to each student on their negotiation performance and term sheets.
  6. Require them to communicate with the client:I required a 1-2 page client cover memo or email for almost every assignment focusing on tone, language, use of legalese, etc. In my comments, I explained the importance of this type of legal writing and of tailoring the language to different types of business clients. When they worked on NDAs, I reminded that them that client may never actually read the contract, so they needed to ensure that the cover memo was sufficiently detailed to provide material information without being overwhelming.
  7. Make them teachThey say that when you teach, you learn twice. I required the each student to develop a 5-7 minute video on an assigned topic. Each student “presented” to either a group of lay/business people or a group of junior associates attending a CLE. They then had to write a blog post of  between 750-1000 words. I required students to watch each other’s videos and comment as either a business person or a junior lawyer. This provided a review of the class for the viewers. This assignment counted for 10% of the grade, but as an extra incentive to take the assignment seriously, the student with the “best” video received an extra week to turn in the joint final contract, meaning that the opposing counsel also benefitted. FYI, I was generally blown away by the videos.
  8. Allow them to use precedents and then instruct them on the limitations: Many of the students had never seen an NDA, and I allowed them to use precedents. Most were surprised by how many comments I had on their final products, especially since many of the precedents came from big firms. This was a valuable lesson for them on precision and the dangers of blind cutting and pasting.
  9. Make them redline and draft a contract with opposing counsel:The final assignment required them to draft a contract based on their negotiated terms. They soon realized that they had to do additional negotiation because some of the terms did not make sense once they started to memorialize them.
  10. Have office hours and use video conferencing:I practically had to beg the students to have office hours with me. They had no problem emailing with questions, but generally didn’t utilize my office hours, which were incredibly flexible. I offered online and in person hours, but only two students met with me during the semester outside of the live mandatory office hours. I had a mandatory live grading session by video to discuss their NDAs, their upcoming negotiations, and any questions they had about the course. During that live grading session, I acted as a partner in their law firm and then stepped into professor role.

What didn’t work as well? As you can imagine, to do the job correctly, I had a LOT of work to do. I clearly gave too much work over a nine-week period, because I know much work I had to do to give them feedback. I just wanted them to be armed with the skills they will need in the real world, but I overdid it. And this meant that sometimes I did not meet my own deadlines for getting feedback to them. Truthfully, I imposed some of that burden on myself. I offered students the chance to turn in drafts of almost every assignment for feedback. About 25-30 percent of the students took me up on that offer, but every week, I emailed all of the students with tips to improve based on the trends that I saw. In retrospect, I would give fewer assignments over a longer period of time, and would better utilize the discussion boards to foster that sense of live class discussion.

After all of that, I’m gearing up to do it again for the Fall, this time over a 15-week period. Even though I will have more time, both I and the students will have other classes. I’m also teaching business associations and legal writing, and the students will have their own classes, jobs, law reviews, and extracurricular activities to contend with.

If you have any questions or tips, leave them below or email me at [email protected]. I plan to learn more about course development at the University of Denver hybrid/online learning conference on September 26th. I’ll update this post after that conference. In the meantime, this weekend, I’ll be retooling my syllabus based on my summer experience and what I’ve learned this week at SEALS. Correction, I’ll retool in between grading the joint contracts.

August 2, 2019 in Contracts, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Negotiation, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Managing Compliance Across Borders Conference at the University of Miami- June 26-28

 

 

 

Join me in Miami, June 26-28.

 

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Managing Compliance Across Borders

June 26-28, 2019

Managing Compliance Across Borders is a program for world-wide compliance, risk and audit professionals to discuss current developments and hot topics (e.g. cybersecurity, data protection, privacy, data analytics, regulation, FCPA and more) affecting compliance practice in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Latin America. Learn more

See a Snapshot: Who Will Be There?
You will have extensive networking opportunities with high-level compliance professionals and access to panel discussions with major firms, banks, government offices and corporations, including:

  • BRF Brazil
  • Carnival Corporation
  • Central Bank of Brazil
  • Endeavor
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Eversheds Sutherland
  • Fidelity Investments
  • Hilton Grand Vacations
  • Ingram Micro
  • Jones Day
  • Kaufman Rossin
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Laureate Education, Inc.

 

  • MasterCard Worldwide
  • MDO Partners
  • Olin Corporation
  • PwC
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises
  • Tech Data
  • The SEC
  • TracFone Wireless
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • Univision
  • UPS
  • XO Logistics
  • Zenith Source

 

Location
Donna E. Shalala Student Center
1330 Miller Drive
Miami, FL 33146

 

CLE Credit
Upwards of 10 general CLE credits in ethics and technology applied for with The Florida Bar

 

Program Fee: $2,500 $1,750 until June 1 
Use promo code “MCAB2019” for discount 

Non-profit and Miami Law Alumni discounts are available, please contact:
Hakim A. Lakhdar, Director of Professional Legal Programs, for details

Learn More: Visit the website for updated speaker information, schedule and topic details.

This program is designed and presented in collaboration with our partner in Switzerland

University of St. Gallen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 10, 2019 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Firms, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)