Are you suffering from communications chaos?

Lawyers rely on good communications skills.  Whether it’s in writing or in person, how well a lawyer communicates will have a significant impact on her career success.  We spend a lot of time learning how to make effective, persuasive oral presentations in the context of practice, but what about day-to-day communications?  These examples illustrate the problems that can occur.

**  Adam Associate has just started working with Paula Partner.  Adam is a good lawyer with strong skills, but things just aren’t gelling in his working relationship with Paula.  Last week, Adam put together a memo illustrating some strategic decisions to be made for a client.  The memo reviewed the possibilities and included lots of data and details on each option.  When he gave Paula the memo with its attachments, she looked at it and snapped, “Adam, I need a bottom line.  What’s the game plan here?”  Adam began to review the options so he could give Paula the background necessary to understand his final recommendation, but he could tell she was getting more and more impatient.  Finally he cut his comments short and told her what he thought the client should do.  Paula thanked him, and after Adam left she sat down to do her own quick review of the situation.  A few days later, Adam was surprised to find out that she’d made a recommendation to the client that was a good approach but didn’t make use of the hard work he’d done.  Both Adam and Paula are frustrated, and Adam is wondering whether he’s in line for a negative (and unfair?) review since Paula clearly doesn’t appreciate his precision and thoroughness.

**  Paula recently made a pitch to Clinton Client over lunch, to represent his company in a huge merger.  She delivered clear though somewhat abstract information about her experience and the firm’s capabilities, and she presented him with an action plan that showed how she’d hit the ground running.  She was puzzled that Clinton kept throwing in new ideas that were far outside what she had contemplated, and she was annoyed that Clinton interrupted their conversation several times to speak to friends and acquaintances in the restaurant.  Paula had the feeling that Clinton knew every person who walked through the door and that he was intent on speaking to all of them.  He asked whether Paula or her firm represented any of the movers and shakers in his industry, most of whom he identified as friends.  Although Paula was willing to make a personal connection with Clinton, she wanted to move on to business and was frustrated that Clinton seemed to be more interested in telling stories and drawing analogies rather than sticking to the facts.

**  Adam was having trouble with Sue Secretary.  Although she had terrific skills, Sue always wanted to know more about the work she was doing and seemed to approach Adam’s practice as if she and Adam were a team.  Although Adam appreciated her interest, he didn’t particularly enjoy the “bonding time” of talking about family and personal interests, and he sometimes felt that Sue’s favorite word was “why.”  Sue couldn’t stand the organizational systems that Adam demanded and wondered especially why he needed his files to be identical, with the labels printed in a certain font and arranged according to the system he’d been using since his first year in practice.

Do these situations sound at all familiar?  Have you ever found yourself wondering why someone behaves they way they do or wished you could predict how they might respond to a situation?  I’ve been using an assessment known as the DISC with clients for over a year now to help explain and eliminate these communications problems.  DISC measures the extent to which you exhibit behavior and communication styles known as Dominant, Influencing, Steady, or Compliant.  Once you know your own style, it becomes easy to recognize other people’s styles, and that allows you to adjust your own style for maximum effectiveness in communications.  You can learn more about the DISC here, here, and here.


Introducing BlawgWorld 2007: get your free copy today!

I am excited to join the fanfare introducing BlawgWorld 2007.  (Download your free copy by clicking the image above or this link.)  This nifty eBook includes posts selected from 77 of the “most influential” legal blogs, addressing practice management issues, substantive issues, technology issues, and more.  I am honored that Life at the Bar is included.

If you need to know more before downloading your copy (and note, you’re not required to provide any information in exchange for downloading your copy), read the press release here.  This guide will introduce some new blogs for your perusal and give you a post that will help you decide whether to explore further.

In addition to the list of blawgs, the eBook includes a list of problems that law firms often face, which is further subdivided into specific FAQ-style questions.  These questions link to substantive presentations by advertisers, which give good information about their products or services without hyping them.  For instance, “Where Can I Find a Certified Trainer for Web-Based “Hands On” Software Training Specifically Designed for Law Firm Personnel?” leads to a infomercial (emphasis on the info) about a training company that provides training via the web.  It’s a nice way to get an introduction to solutions without having to face a sales representative until you’re ready to learn more.

BlawgWorld 2006 was downloaded over 45,000 times.  The 2007 edition will surely beat that.  Get yours today!

Recovering from a computer crash

Apologies for my silence of late.  While traveling last week, one of the Windows files necessary for start-up mysteriously vanished.  “It just happens,” say the tech support people, which is no consolation to me at all.  After trying every trick in the book, including mystical incantations, I finally wiped the hard drive yesterday.  I’m back running, though not nearly back to normal.

Happily, I was able to put in a good bit of work on Blawg Review #114 before the crash.  Stephanie West Allen put in yeoman’s work in bringing it home, and it appears in full glory on her Idealawg.  I have a new respect for those who host the Blawg Review.  Blawg Review has information about next week’s host, and instructions on how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.

And with that, I’m back to rebuilding my computer.  This is my second crash in six months (the last, which occurred on December 26 while I was flying from Atlanta to San Francisco, was a hardware issue) and I’ll be restoring my files from an online back-up service.  I’ll let you know how it goes, since I will be promoting the gospel of backing up from now on!

Coming soon: Blawg Review #114

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  I once had the joy of being on a Norwegian milk boat headed to the North Cape on June 21.  As we traveled northward, we could see the bonfires lit on the shore to mark the solstice.  It was one of those amazing moments in which everything was in flow, when the familiar, the new, and the timeless all intersected, and summer was born.

Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg and I are collaborating to host Blawg Review #114 next week, and we look forward to heralding the summer season in the legal blogsphere.  We’ll probably have some familiar posters as well as some new ones, along with ideas both timeless and fresh.  What sunny (or stormy) posts will find their way to us on the first summer breezes of 2007?  Please submit your own favorite blog post or some you’ve discovered during the past week!  You can find the Blawg Review Submission Guidelines and a handy submission form here.  The deadline is 11:59 PM PDT on Saturday — but there’s no need to wait.

Stephanie notes that Blawg Review #61 was also a collaborative effort, by Blonde Justice, Woman of the Law, and Not Guilty.  We look forward to introducing the latest team effort next week!

Follow-up from the NALP conference

Last Wednesday, I attended the NALP Annual Education Conference.  I wish I’d planned to be there for the whole conference, because I met some fantastic people (including Steve Seckler of the Counsel to Counsel blog) and read about a number of presentations that I would have loved to attend.  But, I’d budgeted only one day, and much of that was taken up with final preparations for the presentation I made with three delightful colleagues.

I was able to attend the keynote speech by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, two women who, following their service as U.S. Marine officers, have dedicated themselves to advancing women as leaders.  They spoke on several of the leadership principles in their book Leading from the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women; the principle that caught my attention was to seek to take responsibility before seeking to place blame.  (Their wording is no doubt catchier, but that’s the gist.)  I’ve seen too many instances in which teams of lawyers turn on one another when there’s a problem, and application of this principle might help teams resolve problems.  I plan to read the book, and I’ll post a follow-up review when I do.  At a minimum, attending the keynote was a well-spent hour.

And then I caught up with my co-presenters: Jory Fisher, Associate Dean for Career & Professional Development at Liberty Law School, Ann Skalaski, a consultant for law schools and law firms as well as a recruiter and career coach, and Dayle Savage, Professor and Director of the Peabody Career Center and Vanderbilt University and a a coach and consultant with spiraLearning.  It was a pleasure to work with these bright, personable women!

Our topic was Facilitating a Successful Transition from Law Student to Lawyer.  I would guess that close to 100 people attended the program, and we engaged in a rich discussion about what law schools and law firms are doing right and what each could do better to help students make the leap.  The conclusion that each of us reached is that it’s critical to bring law schools and law firms together so discuss expectations for new lawyers, as well as to address what each side can and should do to help new lawyers accrue the necessary skills for success.  In the course of the presentation, we shared several resources, one of which I’d like to highlight here:

Best Practices in Attorney Professional Development: Heading Off and Handling Wrong Turns, prepared by the ABA Career Resource Center with the cooperation of the Professional Development Consortium.  Numerous law firm recruiters and professional development coordinators contributed to this book that presents best practices for lawyers, law firms, and professional development specialists.  The contributors provides practical advice on a variety of situations that associates may encounter, such as how to handle mistakes, how to request and implement feedback received from supervising lawyers, and how to maintain an appropriate workload.  Also included are suggestions for law firms (such as using a competency model to build a high performance culture and creating effective lateral transition programs) and advice, job descriptions, and advertisements for professional development specialists.  The book would be useful for both attorneys and administrators, and it’s worth every penny.  As I described it during the program, it’s like a mentor-in-a-book for associates.

Our time was short — the 90 minutes allotted flew by — but the attendees both offered and received some terrific ideas for enhancing professional development programs.  I understand that NALP makes notes and handouts from the conference freely available on its web site, so if you’re interested in more information, you may want to visit the NALP website in 2-3 weeks.

Wednesday Grab Bag

Another pointer to some interesting goings-on…

1.  The 800-CEO-READ Blog has an interesting post about the necessity of praising twentysomething workers for absolutely everything, because parents, teachers, and so on have rewarded this generation with everything from verbal reminders to winner’s ribbons and gold stars, following on a similar (but unlinked) WSJ article published last weekend.  The post (and presumably the article) even quotes Bob Nelson, a “thank you consultant.”  (I’ll be filing that under jobs I never knew existed.)  The post (authored by a self-identified member of the praise generation) ends by requesting more than kudos:

So yes, we were raised on praise. Most of us benefited with self-esteem. That self-esteem gave us a backbone. That backbone helps us stand up for our ethics (which after such scandals as Enron and Worldcom, can’t be bad), question company policies and processes in a productive way, and use disappointments to better ourselves rather than take it personally.

We’re not asking for kudos and presents for every small success. Challenge us and congratulate us when we go above and beyond. As a fellow member from my generation and co-worker chimed in, “Take us seriously.” If we’re not doing well, tell us. Don’t hold us to anything less.

2.  Wondering how big firms retreat?  I thought the retreats I’d attended and heard about were rather plush, but I am agog at the description posted by Nancy on the But Slenderly… blog.  (I’ve been following her blog — she writes like a dream and has some great insights!)  Anyway, the description includes not just the standard drinking stories (which vary from firm retreat to firm retreat primarily only in details) but also this:

 In the past two days, I heard speeches by Lance Armstrong (inspiring and uh, kind of sexy); Bob Woodworth (fascinating, though a little smug); Cherie Booth Blair (as in Tony); Francis Fukuyama (who knew game theory was so interesting?); Terry McAuliff (Dems 2008, whoo!).  Stephen Colbert (via video) and JHud performed at night – girl has some pipes, holy moses.  There was one horrifying moment though when she walked out into the crowd with her mike in hand to find “back up singers” and as she stood next to my table, towering in high black stilettos and this sparkly sheen of fame, her eyes met mine and I thought I was going to have to make my way under the table to avoid the entire firm hearing my frog croak.  Luckily, my frantic head-shaking and horrified expression convinced her I was not her gal and she plucked another unsuspecting victim further down the table.  Bullet.  Dodged.

Ok, color me impressed.

3.  And finally, Bob Sutton reports that a New York lawyer has been disbarred “for being an asshole,” as detailed in the Village Voice.  The official reason for the disbarment is “obstructive and offensive behavior which did not involve fraud or deception.”  It’s staggering, and more than a little sad to me, that any lawyer would think the behavior that the Village Voice describes would be even colorably acceptable.

And a brief report on my Colorado adventure… Colorado had a winter storm today.  I’d planned to drive from Cheyenne (where I spent a couple of days) to Keystone, where the NALP meeting is being held.  But after I checked the weather and road conditions, I decided to drive to the Denver airport and take a shuttle over.  Good decision on my part!  The drive from the airport to Keystone should take about 90 minutes.  I know this not only from the shuttle schedule but also because I drove it on Sunday.  Today’s drive took 4 and a half hours.  The road was slushy and icy, the snow was blowing sideways with huge flakes, and 6 tractor trailers jack-knifed just before the Eisenhower Tunnel.  I met some nice people on the ride over (fortunate, since 10 of us were crammed into a van) and was enormously relieved when I arrived, safe and sound, at the resort.  If my crummy little disposable camera works, I’ll post pictures next week.  On the plus side, everything here looks like a winter fairyland!

Interesting new resources for women who are lawyers

One of my mother’s friends, Margie Pitts Hames, argued in the Supreme Court in 1971, in Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade.  She told me that when she went to the clerk’s office before arguing, she was told to put on her hat — because court reporters at that time were required to wear hats in court, and no one expected a woman to be anything other than a court reporter.   Dorothy Toth Beasley argued  for the other side,  later became Judge Beasley of the Georgia Court of Appeals, and literally left her mark on the court by having “and women” chiseled into the court’s credo “Upon the integrity, wisdom and independence of the judiciary depend the sacred rights of free men” in 1992.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then.  And yet….

It’s pretty common to see news items about women leaving the legal profession and the small percentage of women who make partner in large law firms.  A story I read recently in the Washington Post highlighted a website that includes forums on which female (and other groups) law students are sexually objectified and even threatened with physical violence.  I’ve posted about the challenges facing female litigators and about a woman who’s suing her firm for sex discrimination because (among other allegations) she claims she was told she was spending too much time at the office and too little with her family.

Although I seek to serve both men and women who practice law, it does seem to me that women at times face unique challenges that seem to persist for reasons both known and unknown.

I recently ran across Ms. JD, “an online community that provides a forum for dialogue and networking among women lawyers and aspiring lawyers.”  Ms. JD was created by a group of female law students from Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, UT Austin, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and Yale who are “concerned by the rates at which women opt out of the legal profession, the lack of representation of women in the highest courts and echelons of the legal community, and the role of gender in the progression of many women’s legal careers.”

Ms. JD will launch at a national conference co-hosted by Yale Law Women at Yale Law Schoolon March 31, 2007.  The goals of the conference are “(1) to foster professionally transformative alliances through new communications technologies, and (2) to share tools and strategies to enhance the experiences of women in law.”  I can’t attend the conference, but I would love to know what happens there.  I invite anyone who attends to contact me (see last paragraph of this post) with a report and comments that I will share here with or without attribution, as you prefer.


(A personal aside to the story about Margie Hames: I wish I could link to an online resource about Mrs. Hames.  She was a remarkable woman: smart, fierce, kind, funny, reverent, irreverent, and opinionated.  She died in 1993 at a much-too-young 60.  However, because everything of substance that I’ve found about her on the web takes either a pro- or anti-abortion stance, I’m not linking.  If you’re curious, Google.  But, please, don’t believe everything you read.)

Predictions following the salary bump

Has anyone missed the news about the recent salary bump?  Somehow, I doubt it.

Plenty of questions remain, such as to what extent salaries increases will spread to other parts of the country and what increased expectations, if any, will be imposed on the anointed associates.  I’d like to make several predictions about what’s likely to happen following the raises:

1. In-house hiring will go up.  I’ve talked with several in-house lawyers who’ve been a part of strategy meetings on how to cope with the trickle-down effect (or the anticipated trickle-down) of the bump.  The consensus seems to be that it’s time to bulk up in-house, since it may be cheaper for corporations to keep their routine legal work rather than sending it to highly priced outside counsel.

2. Midsized and smaller firms will be even more competitive with large firms.  Again, clients will expect (with good reason) to see higher legal bills from large firms following the salary increase.  Associates will likely need to bill more hours, hourly fees will likely go up, and so on.  Midsized and smaller firms may feel a need to raise salaries a bit, but the chance of starting salaries coming even close to $160K in these firms is remote.  Accordingly, clients may be interested in retaining these firms for the same reasons that they will be bringing more work in-house: to reduce legal bills.  This is a real opportunity for midsized and smaller firms.  Those firms can capture additional work, and they’ll have a chance to wow the client and perhaps increase the range of services to the client.

3. More senior lawyers (i.e. partners, especially those who experienced the market bubble and burst of the 1980s and late 1990s/early 2000s) may brace for a market drop.  What that tendency may mean is anybody’s guess, but it’s reasonable to expect that this will happen.  They may also resent the associates making these stratospheric salaries, making office camaraderie somewhat dicey.

4. Significant increases in lateral moves.  Given these huge salary increases, associates may be more easily tempted to jump ship.  Will the bumps stem associate attrition?  Doubtful, since the increases have been fairly well-matched within markets.

So, those are my predictions.  What do you foresee?  Comments welcome, as always.

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.