Lawyers Appreciate…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the storm of “Lawyers Appreciate…” posts over the last 10 days!  Each blogger has added a new perspective on what lawyers appreciate and why.  As I read, I found myself wondering what I might add when my turn came; as it turns out, that’s been easy.

Lawyers appreciate colleagues.  I can’t count the number of times that I’ve stuck my head into someone’s office and said, “Hey, can I bounce something off you?”  The resulting conversations almost always helped me to think through my approach, to challenge my reasoning, to hone my arguments — and also to provide the pleasure of discussing interesting issues with bright colleagues.

Lawyers appreciate support staff.  I’ve worked with various secretaries, assistants, paralegals, IT staff, filing clerks, HR staff, librarians, and the like over the years.  Although it’s tempting to say that I couldn’t have carried the workload I did without those people, that isn’t completely true, as proven by the years in which I filled each of those roles myself.  But working with those professionals made my life easier and more pleasant on many occasions, and I am grateful for the terrific support I’ve received.  (And on this note, do read Mike McBride’s musings on lawyers’ frequent failure to praise support staff for their work and contrasting the tangible rewards that lawyers may offer instead… It may be an eye-opener.)

Lawyers appreciate technology.  Although at times technology makes it feel that we have to be “on” 24/7, technology makes it possible to work much more efficiently, to present arguments more persuasively, and to spend time away from the office without being unreachable.  Used responsibly, the benefits of technology far outweigh the downside.

Lawyers appreciate laughter.  The work that we do is serious, sometimes deadly serious.  But we can’t fall into the trap of taking ourselves as seriously as we do our work.

Lawyers appreciate our clients.  Without them, we’d have nothing to do!  But, more importantly, I am often humbled to realize that someone is willing to trust me with their representation.  What may be a fairly routine matter to me is a critical matter to my client, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be invited into clients’ businesses and lives.  This appreciation forms the basis for my insistence on excellent client service.  Clients deserve no less.

Finally, lawyers appreciate being viewed as people, rather than as professional roleplayers.  We each bring a unique combination of perspectives, experiences, skills, likes, dislikes, values, etc. to the practice of law.  No two lawyers will approach practice in the same way.  That’s what makes it fun to work with colleagues, and that’s why there’s a practice niche that will work for every lawyer who wants to practice.

Thanks to Stephanie West Allen for the conversations that led to the “Lawyers Appreciate…” countdown, and thanks to everyone who’s played with us!  My commitment is to hold on to this spirit of appreciation in 2007 and to revisit it often, in hopes of making what’s strong even stronger.

Happy New Year!

Closing the year in appreciation

I am so delighted to read all of the “Lawyers Appreciate…” posts that legal bloggers have shared in the past few days!  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check here for the explanation and here for the list of links.)  I’ll be sharing my appreciation on the last day of the countdown.

Until then, I’ll be appreciating the joy of having personal time for relaxation.  I’m on vacation now, and my computer died somewhere en route.  I’ll also appreciate my habit of backing up my computer, because that means that everything will be waiting for me on my backup hard drive when I get home.  So, please pardon my silence over the next few days.  I’ll be back on December 31.

Joining in the “Lawyers Appreciate” countdown

Here’s a list of those who’ve joined in the “Lawyers Appreciate…” countdown.  I’ll keep updating it as new posts are added.  Thanks to those who are participating!

Added 1/9/07: Although the Lawyers Appreciate… countdown was officialy set to run 12/22-31/06, I’m thrilled to see continuing appreciations!  I’ll keep updating as long as legal bloggers keep posting.  Appreciate on!

December 22
Austin Defense Lawyer — Jamie Spencer  (Lawyers appreciate discussing interesting issues in a collegial atmosphere)

December 23
Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices — Gerry Riskin  (Lawyers appreciate the same things other people do)
Settle It Now Negotiation Blog — Victoria Pynchon  (Lawyers appreciate integrity)
Workplaces That Work — Blaine Donais  (Lawyers appreciate fairness)

December 24
The Lawyer Coach Blog — Allison Wolf  (Lawyers appreciate other lawyers who work diligently in service to their clients)

December 25
Counsel to Counsel — Stephen Seckler  (Lawyers appreciate the rule of law and separation of powers)

December 26
More Partner Income — Tom Collins  (Lawyers appreciate being appreciated)
Lawsagna — Anastasia Pryanikova  (Lawyers appreciate their mentors)

December 27
Legal Blog Watch — Carolyn Elefant  (Lawyers appreciate their clients)
the [non]billable hour — Matt Homann  (Lawyers appreciate gifts.  Be sure to read the gifts that Matt wishes for his lawyer friends.)
SETTLE IT NOW BL AR G — Victoria Pynchon  (Lawyers appreciate legal bloggers)
Build A Solo Practice, LLC — Susan Carter Liebel  (Lawyers appreciate the balue of their education)

December 28
Basquette Case — Basquette  (Lawyers appreciate freedom.  An exceptional peek into one lawyer’s life.)
Legal Andrew — Andrew Flusche  (Lawyers appreciate clients who foster productivity)
Futurelawyer — Richard Georges  (Lawyers appreciate those who blog about lawyering)

December 29
Ernie the Attorney — Ernie Svenson  (Lawyers appreciate good clients, good judges, other lawyers who are fair and straightforward, and an efficient and sensible legal system)
The Common Scold — Monica Bay  (Lawyers appreciate beautiful places and times — can’t begin to summarize this evocative post!)
Robert Ambrogi’s Lawsites — Robert Ambrogi  (Lawyers appreciate civility among their peers)
shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress — David Giacalone  (Lawyers appreciate courts friendly to pro se parties)
f/k/a… — Prof. Yabut and dagosan  (Lawyers appreciate good haiku)

December 30
Blawg Review — Ed. (Lawyers appreciate link love)
Minor Wisdom — Raymond P. Ward (Lawyers appreciate being appreciated, professionalism in other lawyers, and good opponents)
StayViolation — Chuck Newton (Lawyers appreciate thrilling cases, and more… in verse!)
Bag and Baggage — Denise Howell (Lawyers appreciate clients, especially those who keep their accounts current, and law firms that offer options to build a satisfying career)
May It Please the Court — J. Craig Williams (Lawyers appreciate the opportunity to use their legal skills to make a difference)

December 31
Adam Smith, Esq. — Bruce MacEwen (Lawyers appreciate professional management at senior executive levels of their firms)
Home Office Lawyer — Grant D. Griffiths (Home office lawyers appreciate technology, freedom, and more — all those things and people that allow the home office lawyer to operate)
The Adventure of Strategy — Rob Millard (Lawyers appreciate law firm consultants who deliver on their promises, exceed their expectations and strive to develop mutually valuable, professionally respectful long term relationships)
Transcending Gender — Jennifer Burke (Lawyers appreciate good blogs)
South Carolina Family Law Blog — J. Benjamin Stevens (Lawyers appreciate excellent clients, excellent staff, and excellent ideas)
a fool in the forest — George M. Wallace (also posted on Declaration and Exclusions)  (Lawyers appreciate inquiry)
Life at the Bar — Julie Fleming Brown (Lawyers appreciate colleagues, staff, clients, and laughter)
Online Guide to Mediation — Diane Levin (Lawyers appreciate community)

January 1, 2007
that lawyer dude — Anthony Colleluori (That lawyer dude appreciates clients, courts, judges who rule quickly and impartially, court personnel, police officers, blogging and teaching, fellow bloggers, staff, home, and family)

January 6, 2007
Patterico’s Pontifications — Patterico (Prosecutor who appreciates that he (?) can always do what he believes is right; colleagues; and honest and courteous defense attorneys) (Be sure to read the comments for additional appreciation)

January 9, 2007
What About Clients?  — J.D. Hull (Appreciating lawyers who practice with enduring joy, enthusiasm, and dedication)

Lawyers Appreciate… A 10-day countdown

Welcome to Day 1 of the 10-day “Lawyers Appreciate” countdown!

Stephanie West Allen, the voice behind Idealawg and TrackKnacks, and I have been corresponding for some months now.  One of the many topics we’ve discussed is our shared desire to launch an appreciative look at the law, lawyers, and practice in the legal blogosphere.  And that’s how the “Lawyers Appreciate…” countdown was born.

Here’s how it works:  Stephanie and I are each inviting 3 legal bloggers to join the countdown.  We’re asking them to post a blog entry that begins with the words, “Lawyers Appreciate…” and then to invite 3 more bloggers of their choice to do the same.  We’ll keep this up for 10 days, until December 31.  Can you imagine the swell of appreciation that will be generated by the end of the year?  Talk about riding the wave into 2007!

I’m sending my emails now.  So keep your eyes open for appreciation, creativity, and an adventure… Because Lawyers Appreciate!

Readers: How would you complete the sentence?  Your comments are, as always, welcome.

Updated: Visit here for a list of all “Lawyers Appreciate…” posts.

Professional inspiration: The Honorable Elbert P. Tuttle

The end of the year always strikes me as a good time to reflect on what works well in the law and why we lawyers do what we do.  Today, I’d like to introduce readers to one of my legal heroes, The Hon. Elbert Parr Tuttle.

Judge Tuttle served on the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals from 1954 until his death in 1996.  He’s remembered as a model attorney and judge, one who represented the absolute best in the profession.  Judge Tuttle was tremendously active in civil rights cases, both as a lawyer and a judge and, along with other members of the Fifth Circuit (John Minor Wisdom, John Brown, and Richard Rives) was instrumental in bringing effective desegregation to the South.  (The anecdote at the beginning of this story about Judge Tuttle illustrates not only how he came to play such a role; it also illustrates the power that parental example can have on children, and children then on the world.)  For more on Judge Tuttle’s life and accomplishments, see any of the memorials and articles written about him, and definitely read Jack Bass’s phenomenal book Unlikely Heroes.

Judge Tuttle gave a commencement speech at Emory Law School in the 1950s that defines professionalism.  It has informed my understanding of what it means (and what it should mean) to be an attorney, and I make it a habit to read through Judge Tuttle’s speech several times a year.  The full speech is not available on the Internet, unfortunately.  But here’s an excerpt, provided by the Washington Realty Group:

The professional man is in essence one who provides service. But the service he renders is something more than that of the laborer, even the skilled laborer. It is a service that wells up from the entire complex of his personality. True, some specialized and highly developed techniques may be included, but their mode of expression is given its deepest meaning by the personality of the practitioner. In a very real sense his professional service cannot be separate from his personal being. He has no goods to sell, no land to till. His only asset is himself. It turns out that there is no right price for service, for what is a share of a man worth? If he does not contain the quality of integrity, he is worthless. If he does, he is priceless. The value is either nothing or it is infinite.So do not try to set a price on yourselves. Do not measure out your professional services on an apothecaries’ scale and say, “Only this for so much.” Do not debase yourselves by equating your souls to what they will bring in the market. Do not be a miser, hoarding your talents and abilities and knowledge, either among yourselves or in your dealings with your clients . . .Rather be reckless and spendthrift, pouring out your talent to all to whom it can be of service! Throw it away, waste it, and in the spending it will be increased. Do not keep a watchful eye lest you slip, and give away a little bit of what you might have sold. Do not censor your thoughts to gain a wide audience. Like love, talent is only useful in its expenditure, and it is never exhausted. Certain it is that man must eat; so set what price you must on your service. But never confuse the performance, which is great, with the compensation, be it money, power, or fame, which is trivial.. . . The job is there, you will see it, and your strength is such, as you graduate . . . that you need not consider what the task will cost you. It is not enough that you do your duty. The richness of life lies in the performance which is above and beyond the call of duty

Elbert Parr Tuttle, “Heroism in War and Peace”, The Emory University Quarterly. 1957;13:129-30.


Echoes of law school exams

I enjoy working with law students; I consult with a law school and often join in panels and roundtable discussions with and for students.  Beginning just before Thanksgiving, students get very quiet, and those who aren’t quiet are anxiety-ridden.  That always prompts me to overwhelming gratitude that I no longer have to suffer law school exams.

Remember them?  The frantic outlining, the cramming, the procrastination… And worst of all, waiting for grades.  Now that my career no longer hangs in the balance while professors do the grading, I’m much more sympathetic with the chore they face.  I remember speculating about how professors grade: how much does neatness count?  Is original thought good, or does it run the risk of sounding like panic-inspired raving?  How do professors possibly come up with a consistent grading method?

Finally, the truth outs.  Professor Daniel Solove of George Washington University Law School has posted A Guide to Grading Exams.  He claims it’s a joke, but I’m not so sure….

How to ask for work as an associate

I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on the most popular search phrases that take people to my blog.  It’s an experiment, and I’d be curious if anyone has any comments or requests for specific topics.

Some version of “how to ask for work as an associate” is a common search, and that’s quite logical since it’s impossible to hit the critical billable hours without sufficient work.  The short answer to how to ask for work is easy: go to a partner or senior associate who does work that interests you, let them know you have some time, and ask if there’s anything with which they’d like help.  There’s no real formula, no do’s or don’ts, and not a lot of risk.

The bigger question, of course, is why someone might need to ask for work.  There are 3 primary reasons, and each calls for a different response from the associate, and potentially the firm as well:

1.  Business is slow.  If this is the case, in your practice area or in your firm, explore opportunities to network or to write/speak.  Either will be a good use of your time for your own personal promotion and, one would hope, to help generate business for your firm.  Of course, neither of these activities is a short-term strategy and are best done on a regular basis.  Slow times, though, free up time to focus on these activities.

2.  Your workload has been declining and business overall is not slow.  This situation generally isn’t good news.  Although it’s possible that a benign explanation exists, a logical conclusion is that those who assign work are unhappy with the associate.  The problem is generally professional, though on occasion a personal conflict may exist.  Unfortunately, the nature of the professional problem (or even that a problem exists) may never have been communicated to the associate, who may be left feeling a general anxiety and discomfort without knowing quite what’s happened.

If this is your situation, go to the most senior person with whom you’ve developed a strong relationship, tell them you notice your workload has slowed to a trickle (and, if true, that you’ve been asking for work without success), and ask if there’s a problem.  Having that conversation will be difficult, but it may also create an opportunity for a turn-around.  Having performed a realistic self-evaluation of your skill and experience beforehand will be helpful, as will retracing the timing of the slowdown to search for any precipitating event.  And perhaps you’ll learn that there’s another explanation for the slowdown.

If your conversation reveals an insurmountable problem, or if it’s met with stonewalling, your next step should perhaps be polishing your resume, although recovery may be possible with great effort.   If you’re facing this situation, you might consider working with a coach who can help with a realistic look at what’s going on, what your ultimate goals are, and how you can work within the current situation to read your goals.  This is one of the most difficult career issues that a lawyer may face, and having someone in your corner to help you navigate can be invaluable.

3.  You’re experiencing a brief lull.  Find out by asking for work and by checking to be sure that your light load is an anomaly, and then enjoy.  While the business development activities suggested in scenario #1 will always be useful (and you should be doing them even when you’re busy), taking advantage of a short-term lull in your workload is a good work/life balance tactic.  One of the immutable laws of legal practice is that for every lull, there’s an equal and opposite busy period — so you may as well enjoy the lulls when you can.

I hope this is helpful.

Using your time sheets and bills to communicate with clients

Have you ever received a legal bill?  It’s an interesting moment; all too often there’s a sharp intake of breath (it costs that much?), quickly followed by an investigation into why it costs so much.  What do you want your clients to find when they read your bills?

What you don’t want is pretty clear.
*  You don’t want them to wonder how much time your/your firm spent on a matter.
*  You don’t want them to wonder who did the work.
*  You don’t want them to wonder what each member of the team did on their case.
In other words, “For services rendered” will not be a phrase that pleases clients.

It’s standard to require attorneys and paralegals to keep time sheets that describe in detail what they’ve done.  The issue, though, is how well that standard is honored.  As you’re filling out your daily time sheet (because you do keep your time on a daily basis, right?  if not, visit Time sheet habits: don’t procrastinate  and New lawyer skills focus: Are you losing time? to find out why you should) consider the information value of your billing.

Block billing is easy to do, but very difficult for clients to interpret.  An entry like, “2.5 hours, reviewed documents and drafted/revised motion to compel ” will leave a client wondering how long each task required, and the client may not be pleased to find an entry the next day for more time on the motion to compel because she may expect that the 2.5 hours covered drafting the motion when in fact you only reviewed documents and drafted the motion but not the memorandum in support.  Block billing creates questions.  Instead, consider whether you want to indicate more precisely the amount of time you spent on each task, or whether it would be preferable to include multiple entries.

Although it’s essential to remember that your bills may be discoverable and that they must not include privileged information, consider how you may communicate the scope of your work without crossing the line.  So, for instance, you might include entries like, “Researched law re admissibility of [opposing party’s] statement in [brief] that [whatever].”

Errors happen, but do everything in your power to ensure that you bill the correct client for the work you’ve done.  Finding an entry that doesn’t pertain to your matter is a disheartening experience for the client, who may wonder what other mistakes you’re making.

In-house counsel often complains about reviewing attorney bills because they’re cryptic, not explicit, and sometimes just plain wrong. Draft your time sheets so that your clients know who did what, why, and when.

And a note: in case a new associate is reading this and thinking it’s inapplicable because you don’t get to review the bills that clients receive, remember that what goes into your time sheet is what goes into the bills.  Don’t allow yourself to slip into bad billing practices; that’s not a favor to the partners who review your time sheets or to your clients, and both will hold it against you.

Fighting BlackBerry addiction

Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured an article titled, BlackBerry Orphans (subscription required, free preview available).  If it weren’t so serious, it would be funny:

As hand-held email devices proliferate, they are having an unexpected impact on family dynamics: Parents and their children are swapping roles. Like a bunch of teenagers, some parents are routinely lying to their kids, sneaking around the house to covertly check their emails and disobeying house rules established to minimize compulsive typing.

BlackBerries are wonderful gizmos that can make it much easier to balance practice and life.  No need to sit in the office waiting for an email if it can reach you while you’re on personal time.  However, so many BlackBerry users seem to respond to device’s siren song as if nothing could be more important.  One of my clients even confided to me that she would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and turn on her BlackBerry just to see if any important email had come in since she’d gone to bed.  I confided to my client that I’ve done the same, too.  And then I shared my strategies for making the BlackBerry serve me rather than vice versa.

If you’re having trouble confining your BlackBerry time, try the following tips published by the WSJ Law Blog:

  1. During meals, do not check email.
  2. Do not hide your email habits from family members. If you feel that someone would be upset to see you BlackBerrying, it’s a sign that you probably shouldn’t be.
  3. Commit to stop emailing while driving (even at red lights), walking across the street or doing anything that requires careful attention.
  4. Do not check email for the first hour of the day. In addition to giving you time to leisurely read the newspaper or spend time with your family, the practice will help you shake the tic-like checking ritual.
  5. Endeavor to leave the mobile email device in the car or at home when attending any function taking place at your child’s school, or when picking up your child from school.
  6. Decide on an email-free block of time. Parents should first assess their child’s conversational patterns — some like to talk about their day immediately after school, others just before bedtime. Even if your child doesn’t seem interested in talking, stick to your promise not to email during that time.
  7. Set boundaries at work: Alert your colleagues that your mobile email device will be turned off during the predetermined time slot.
  8. Actually turn off your device and stick it in a drawer during the time you’ve designated as email-free.
  9. If you are in the middle of a work crisis, still try to respect some boundaries. Consider blocking out a few 15-minute periods to check email — and then turn the device off again. Honestly assess whether the situation at work is an actual crisis that can’t be solved without your oversight.
  10. When emailing while socializing or spending time with your family, ask yourself if your priority at that moment is enjoying after-work activities or getting work done. If it is the former, power-down. If it’s the latter, return to the office.
  11. Upon arriving home, practice a ritual that helps you mentally separate the work day from the after-work evening. Light a candle, put on music, pour a cocktail. Don’t check your email during this time.
  12. If mobile email overuse creates tension between you and your significant other, consider creating jointly agreed-upon BlackBerry-free zones. For instance, unless your bedroom doubles as a home office, consider maintaining it as a sanctuary of your personal life.

And if, as one commenter stated, your firm would never permit use of these tips, query whether the firm’s standards and values match your own.

Target fixation

In World War II, fighter pilots spoke of the danger of target fixation.  During bombing runs, pilots could become so focused on their targets that they’d dive, drop a bomb on the target, and yet remain so intent on hitting the target that they’d fail to pull up in time.  They’d end up hitting their target and killing themselves.  Although they would have achieved their mission, they wouldn’t survive to fly the next one or even to celebrate their accomplishment.

What does this have to do with practice?

Imagine a lawyer — let’s call her Mary — who is so focused on making partner that everything else recedes.  She spends the hours between 7 AM and 7:30 PM in the office on weekdays and at least 6 hours a day there on weekends.  When she isn’t at work, she’s either working at home or thinking about work.  When she meets someone, she immediately thinks about how they might fit into her goal, whether as a potential client, referral source, or otherwise.  Perhaps she’s married, perhaps she has children, and if so, her family is important to her and yet they’re accustomed to her missing dinner or school plays and being busy for “just a few more minutes” when she’s home.  Mary doesn’t go out to lunch unless there’s a reason, and she feels that exercise is just a waste of time that she could use for work or for marketing.  Her office looks like a tornado hit it, but she doesn’t stop to clean up until she starts to lose things on her desk.  She’s generally known as a nice person, but when she gets stressed, she’s liable to snap at her colleagues and the support staff — and she gets stressed rather often.  Vacations are important to her, but all too often she feels that she’s just moved her work from the office to a spot off-site.

And then, Mary makes partner.  Though she may fantasize about cutting back, chances are good that she won’t.  After all, her hard work put her ahead of the pack, and letting up now would knock her off her game.

And then, something happens.  Maybe a parent gets sick, maybe a child, or maybe it’s Mary.  Maybe something goes wrong at the office, or perhaps she just stops one day and thinks wistfully about her life Before, when she used to enjoy talking long walks through the neighborhood at dawn to get her heart pumping.  Perhaps she wonders what happened, when she quit spending time on non-work things.

Mary is a victim of target fixation.

None of us can function well as a single-dimension individual.  We need input on the intellectual level, but we also need to pay attention to our emotions, our body, and our spirit.  Although it’s possible to neglect those domains, their weakness will eventually bleed over and reduce the effectiveness of the intellectual output, simply because there’s nothing to sustain it.  Another word for target fixation is burnout, the moment when we experience having poured an unsustainable amount of energy into one area of life to the detriment of other areas.  It’s crash-and-burn success.

Work/life balance prevents burnout by nourishing all areas of life, though perhaps not in equal proportions.  Some people really love their work and would feel lost if required to cut back (see Stephanie West Allen’s excellent post Hot worms revisited: Extreme lawyers often love their work for an exploration of what work/life balance “really” means and who gets to decide) and others feel pushed to work so much that important areas of their lives are neglected.  Of course, what’s tricky is that the extreme lawyer may feel restless if he “only” works 60 hours in a week, whereas the more traditionally “balanced” lawyer may start to get antsy and worn out if she sees no choice but to work 60 hours.

Bottom line: define your own balance between work and life, or recognize that your work is your life and work/life describes a continuous, integral whole.  Whatever you decide, though, be on the lookout for target fixation — and pull up well before you crash.