Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why Do I Need a Mentor?

Everybody talks about mentoring these days. Firms have mentoring programs. Bar associations have them. And they come in all forms, including e-mentoring. But do they work? Why, you ask, do you need a mentor? The better question is how you have survived without one. What are the benefits of having a mentor? The following are a few.

You get to learn from others’ mistakes. As a young lawyer, you’re going to make your share of mistakes. Sometimes, the fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing. How do you avoid making them? Talk to a mentor who has made them and learn from his mistakes. In the practice of law, there are many potholes to fall into. Your mentor can help you steer clear of them.

Mentors take the mystery out of it. Countless times each day you will be called upon to make decisions. Sometimes, you’ll know what to do. Many times, you won’t. Usually, your mentor will. Mentors can take the mystery out of what to do and what not to do.

You get advice that works. Advice is only good if it works. Mentors can tell you what they did when confronted with the same problem. They have tested their theories, and they can tell you first hand, from their own experiences, what works and what does not.

You know someone has your back. Being a lawyer can be lonely. Sometimes you feel it’s you against the world - against the opposing party, against opposing counsel and sometimes against your own client. It’s good to have someone looking out for you, watching your back.

You learn the rules of the game. There are a lot of rules that come with being a lawyer, most unwritten. How do you find out what these rules are and how to play by them? You learn from someone who already knows them. A mentor can teach you the rules regarding such things as how to argue a motion or how to deal with opposing counsel, and he can help you comply with these rules rather than accidentally trip over them.

You have a sounding board. As young lawyers, we have a lot of questions that need to be answered. We have conflicts to resolve, problems to face and issues to address. We have ideas, sometimes based on fact, sometimes based purely on instinct, on how to confront these issues. Instead of simply trying out our hypotheses, to see if they are right or wrong, it is worthwhile to sound them off someone who has confronted the same or similar issues and can listen to your approaches, help you weigh the pros and cons and assist you in making thoughtful, rationed decisions.

You get a backstage pass. Mentors pull back the curtain and take you where the action happens. They take you to meetings with clients, conference calls to discuss strategy and access to their own thinking and reasoning. Mentors give you access to their legal worlds, where the big decision makers make the big decisions, and you’re their to witness it, experience it, learn from it.

You get connected. Mentors can help you get plugged into bar and trade associations. They can introduce you to people, get you involved in committees and assist you in your ascendancy to power.

You learn about the Firm. You want to know how your firm works -how it really works? Who does what, who expects what, what makes the partners happy and what their pet peeves are? Your mentor, someone who has been at the firm and who has seen first hand what kind of lawyers stay and which ones go, and of those who stay, which ones prosper, can provide you great insight on how to get along in the firm.

You learn how to network. To develop clients, you must develop relationships with potential clients. Before you can develop a relationship with someone, you have to meet him. How do you do that? Do you go to a trade group or bar meeting and simply walk around, stick your hand out and say hello to whomever you see? A much better approach is to go with a mentor, someone who knows that organization and the people involved. Someone who can introduce you to others and that can help you get your foot in the door.

These are just a few reasons to get a mentor. Mentors help you cut through the red tape, the self-doubt and your innumerable questions. Take the time to find a mentor and start working on a relationship that will affect, for the better, the rest of your career.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Graduation Speech

The following is the speech I delivered to the Honors College at Florida International University at their recent graduation ceremony:

I hold in my hand a blank envelope. It was on an envelope similar to this one where much of what we know as FIU was conceived. 22 years ago, Modesto "Mitch" Maidique became President of a small South Florida university with about 6,000 students. He had never been the president of a university or college. In fact, he had no experience in university administration. He had taught at Stanford and was a successful entrepreneur. But this was a new challenge, with new obstacles. He needed a new paradigm. He did not go out in search of one. He created his own.

On the back of an envelope like this he wrote out his dream for FIU. Unlike his namesake, it was not a modest one. It was not simply adding a department here or improving student activities there. It was so much more than that. On the back of an Eastern Airlines envelope, he laid out his vision for the university, listing his goals:

• transforming the school into a research powerhouse
• reaching $100 million in research grants
• securing an endowment of $100 million
• seeing 100 doctoral students graduate
• creating a law school
• creating a medical school
• creating an architectural school
• creating a 1-A football team

Those big ideas crowded the back of a regular sized envelope. It took 22 years to make them a reality. This year, he finished checking the last items off his list. And having accomplished everything he set out to do at a university that now boasts close to 40,000 students, he informed us all that he was stepping down. Having fulfilled his dream, his job was finished. And it all started with some notes on the back of an envelope.

Never underestimate the power of ideas. They have the power to transform and to inspire. They have the power to uplift and to change. They have the power to get you out of bed in the morning and face the challenges of a new day. Our ideas, our vision, our dreams – they bring out the best in us, the best in others. They are immortal. Unlike the flesh, they do not die. And without them? As the Book of Proverbs says, where there is no vision, the people perish.
Most, if not all of us, have had big dreams. It is almost as if it is ingrained in our DNA, as if we were programmed to think big. Many of you had big dreams as kids, and in high school and now in college. Maybe it was to run for office or start a charity or write a book. Perhaps it was to start a business or travel the world. I bet your dream was something big. Something that went beyond the mundane and the everyday. How many of you dream of simply going to work from 9 to 5, going home, watching television, and doing it again the following day? How many of you dream of middle management? Of your own cubicle? Of simply getting by? We were meant for so much more.

But sadly, many of us will never pursue our dreams. Many of us won’t even dare utter them out loud, for fear of ridicule, for fear of failure. Well, I am here to tell you it is time to let go of your fears, to let go of what is holding you back. For President Maidique, it started with the back of an envelope. For you, it starts with a blank business card.

Reach under your chairs and you will find 6 blank business cards and a pen. I have a blank card and pen of my own up here. Grab one of the cards and the pen. What is your dream? Your vision? What have you always wanted to do? If there is one thing you could accomplish during your lifetime, what would it be? Write it down on the card. I’m going to do the same. Find a cure for a rare disease? Write it down. Bring fresh drinking water to countries where it is in short supply? Write it down. Pen the great American novel? Write it down. Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, permit yourself to reduce it to writing. Now you have it in black and white. Carry this card in your wallet or purse until you accomplish what is on the back of it. Depending on the dream, it may take months, even years - possibly 22 as in the case of President Maidique.
There, you’ve taken the first step. At Stephen Covey says, you have started with the end in mind. You have given yourself permission to chase your dreams.

And the other five cards, you ask? In the next few days or weeks, hand them out to family or friends, and ask them to do what you just did. Ask them to reduce their dreams to writing. People who want to think big, who have vision, help others think big too.

So, you have reduced your dream to writing. Now what? Develop a game plan on getting from here to there. A roadmap if you will. Odds are others have come before you with similar dreams. Have made similar pursuits. Study what they have done. Research online. Go to the library. Visit the bookstore. Search out and speak with those who have pursued similar goals and aspirations. How did the local author get his book published? How did the local politician get elected? You may be surprised how eager they will be to speak to you. Ask them how they achieved their dreams.

Then sit down, and write your business plan. Spell out, in concrete terms, what tasks you need to perform. And provide yourself deadlines for accomplishing those tasks. If you were starting a business, you would do nothing less. When I prepare for trial as a lawyer, I sit down and write out my trial strategy. Plan it out, task by task. Certain tasks may only take a few weeks or months to accomplish. Some may take years. It does not have to be a fancy, spiral bound plan. The back of an envelope may do. Or a paper napkin for that matter. This speech was planned out on a diner’s paper napkin over a plate of fajitas.

Once you have your plan, it is time to execute. Everyday, dedicate some time to achieving your dream. Some days you will have an hour or more. Some days, you will only have a few minutes. But everyday, do something. Make the most of the time you have. Driving to and from work. Waiting in line at the department store. Brushing your teeth in the morning. Instead of listening to music, or sports radio, or daydreaming, think about the end in mind and how to get there. What is the next concrete thing you can do? Think about what it is and how to complete that task. And write all your ideas down. They’ll come to you when you least expect them. My best advice - always keep a pen handy.

And be prepared to change your plan. Life is not static. Circumstances change. The best laid plans, as they say. Be ready to take detours along the way.

And most importantly, be accountable. Do not shy away from telling others what is on that card. Share it with someone you trust, you love, someone who wants to see you accomplish your wildest dreams, and have that person hold you accountable. Meet with that person once a month and let them know of your progress. Have them serve as a sounding board for unexpected obstacles and issues that arise along the way and share in the joy as you check off the tasks on your plan. Consider keeping a journal, recording your progress.

In fact, one or more of you may have the dream of making the dreams of others come true. For you, I have a suggestion. You may want to create a website or message board or another online forum by which all of you in this room can post what you wrote down on your cards and encourage, and help and hold each other accountable. No one is an island. We all need each other. The bigger the dream, the more help we can use. And if none of you are interested in creating an online forum, I would encourage your professors and administrators to do so. A dream board. Have you ever heard of something that sounds more "honors college" than that?

I also encourage all of you to push forward. To chase what is most important to you. And realize that it is not the destination, but the journey which is most important. There will be challenges. There will be failures. There will be setbacks. Accept them. Embrace them. They mold you, change you, make you who you are. To get through life playing it safe, not stumbling here and there - well, that isn’t much of a life at all. On your death bed, you won’t regret the risks you took. You’ll regret the ones you did not.

And let me remind you that you are in good company. Many FIU graduates have sat where you have. Have had dreams of their own. And they have pursued their dreams and in so doing have made things better in our community, in our state, in our nation, and beyond our borders. They have gone on to become leaders in politics and business. Doctors, and lawyers and teachers. Inventors, creators and thinkers. They have shaped policies and ideas and ways of thinking, and in so doing, have left their indelible mark. They, like you, believed they could make big things happen, and pursued their dreams as if their very lives depended on it. And they, like you, started with an idea.

Let me finish with one final thought. I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I matriculated at FIU 18 years ago. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was in the inaugural class of the Honors Program, as it was referred to then. 100 of us. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that a student named Ana Correa was in my section. She was bright, and charming and captivating. And I knew that day, the first day I met her, I would marry her. I told my best friend at the time, who was in my introduction to psychology class, that I would. He, as you probably do now, thought I was crazy.

Well, I asked her out. And she turned me down. And I asked her again. And again, she turned me down. Well, the third time was the charm. But I wasn’t satisfied simply dating her. I wanted to propose. Here I was, 19, and she was 18, students in the Honors programs, dating a mere two months, when I asked her to marry me. She said no. I asked again. Again, the answer was no. You’re probably seeing a pattern by now. Well, I asked her a third time, on her birthday, December 28, 1990. She said yes. We got married 3 ½ years later after graduation. We celebrated our 14th anniversary this past June. I was never suppose to come to FIU. My plan was to return to Chicago, where I grew up, and attend college there. Of course, if I had, I doubt I would ever have met Ana. But instead of returning home to Chicago, I stayed in Miami, and came here instead. And it is the best decision I ever made. Not only did I get a great education but I found my kindred spirit. I’m living proof ladies and gentlemen that there are no coincidences.

I also don’t believe it is a coincidence that I am here today, speaking to you. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that you are out in the audience. I suspect I had this rare and flattering opportunity to speak to you as much to help you pursue your dreams as to pursue my own. And I suspect many, if not most of you, were searching for a few words of encouragement, perhaps even permission, to chase down your vision. Here is what my card says - write a novel. A dream that I have picked up and put down for these past 6 years. Maybe giving a speech on pursuing dreams is the kick in the pants that I have been looking for. Maybe hearing my speech is the jump start you’ve been looking for.

As you head out of this ceremony, hold onto that card. Keep it on you at all times. Years from now, it will be yellowed, and dog eared, and wrinkled. Some of the words may be smudged or blurred. You may get new wallets, new purses, new credit cards, new family photos. But keep the card. If you hold onto it, read it regularly and pursue the dream written on it, I can’t promise you will accomplish what’s written on it, but I can promise your life will be all the better for doing so. That I can promise you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Starting Your Own Blawg

The ABA recently revealed its second annual list of 100 top legal blogs - or "blawgs." With the dominance of the internet and the public’s demand for instant information, blawgs are becoming more sought after for the latest, most relevant and most practical legal information. You may be the next person to create one of these sought after blawgs.

Before you jump into the blogosphere, count the cost. Those who rely on blogs are looking for the most up to date information. They are expecting regular posts. A monthly post will not do. Be prepared to do posts at least once a week. Preferably daily. Keeping that in mind, you have to ask yourself if you will have the time to juggle work, family and your blog.
I’m celebrating the first anniversary of my blog Advice for the Young Lawyer,, where I post an article every weekend on topics and issues relevant to young litigators. Even just a post a week takes time and planning and effort. Have a game plan for your blog in terms of coming up with ideas and finding the time to write about those ideas.

If you conclude you will have the time and energy to keep your blog current, find a niche for that blog. Maybe it’s on jury selection, or on a federal statute or on a fledgling or novel area of the law. Once you have a topic in mind, search to see if someone has beat you to the punch. If so, evaluate whether you want to pick a different theme for your blog or create a different slant on an old theme. When I started my young lawyers blog, I did not come across anything quite like it, so I felt I was filling a need. If there had been several blogs like mine, I may have had a different approach to my own blog.

Once you want to create a blog, create a business plan for you and your firm. What will be the theme for the blog? How many posts will you make? How long will they be? How many contributors will there be? Will this be a joint venture with others at your firm? What will the cost be? There are companies that will create and maintain blogs for you. Of course, you can create and maintain yours for free through Google, for example. Who is your target audience? How will you inform them of your new blog? What will attract them to your blog? Write all this out and approach your firm about your idea. You will need their approval and their support.

Once you have counted the cost, devised a plan and have procured your firm’s approval, it is time to create a blog. My blog is supported through Blogger, sponsored by Google. It is a free service which helps you create a blog and provides you easy step-by-step advice on how to do so, including how to design it and how to make posts. If you want to use this free service, you can go to Other services exist out there. Take the time to do a search on the internet for different blogging services and evaluate which best serves your needs and your wallet.

Once you go through the process and have your blog up and running, you need to let others know about it. I would suggest the following. Spend about a month with your blog, making posts, showing it to a few good friends, and getting some feedback. What works on the blog? What does not? What changes do you need to make? Once you are happy with the layout, with your photo, your personal information, the entries and posts and everything else, you are ready to promote it. Devise a list of e-mail contacts -personal and business contacts - and send them an e-mail notifying them of the blog and providing them a link to your blog, encouraging them to make it one of their favorites. Include the blog address on your business card and notify new contacts about it. Regularly marketing your blog is integral to its long term success and popularity.

Blogging of blawging has become very popular, with more lawyers jumping in the blogosphere every day. If you want to start your own blog, you may find it is easier than you thought. Take the time to plan it out and spend the time to contribute to it regularly. The best of luck.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Improving Your Firm’s Writing

What do others think about your firm? To answer that question, you must ask yourself, "What do others think about my firm’s writing?" What do judges think when your motions come across their desks? What do clients think when they read your letters and memos? Do they think how clear the writing is? How concise? How simple it is without being simplistic? Or do they think it is muddled and confusing. Do they pick out the grammatical gaffes and wonder whether they reflect not only shortcomings in your writing, but reflect a more systemic problem?

Face it. Everything your firm sends out, every motion, letter, memo and even e-mail, reflects not only upon the author but upon the firm. We are constantly being sized up, and the measure of our talents is often what we write. That being the case, we owe it to ourselves to improve not only our own writing, but the writing of each and every attorney at our firm. Nothing less will do.
But how do you get your lawyers to write better? Many think that writing is an innate talent. Either you are a good writer or you’re not, and no amount of effort can change that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good writers are not born. They generally evolve from mediocrity. They spend hours learning the rules of good writing and hours more applying those rules to their writing. And along the way they realize that writing is a life long process and that no matter how good their writing becomes, it could always be better.

So your first job is to convince your attorneys that their writing can stand improvement. This will be hard news to break. Most lawyers take pride in their writing, some so much that they view any revisions to their work as an affront to their very person. Tell them that their writing is less than perfect and prepare for bruised egos. However, tell them you must.

It is best to institute a firm-wide writing program where attendance is mandatory by all attorneys - partners, senior associates and junior associates alike. By making everyone participate no one feels that he is being singled out for his poor writing. Furthermore, those who believe their writing is beyond reproach can feel, and will probably openly state, that their participation is wholly unnecessary. But they will be in attendance, and they, ironically, will have the most to learn from the experience.

At the first meeting, preferably a lunch meeting (free food does wonders for attendance), explain the rationale for the writing boot camp:

The writing course will improve work product. Better writing translates into a better work product, which clients will appreciate and possibly reward with additional business.

The writing course will improve thinking. Clear writing promotes clear thinking. If you can express yourself in a clear, direct manner, you will be better able to articulate your thoughts and process them, making you a more effective advocate.

The writing course will Improve efficiency. If everyone writes better, less time is spent revising documents. How much time is spent by senior associates and partners rewriting junior and mid level associate writing? If everyone’ s writing improves, less time is spent trying to make it better.

The writing course will standardize everyone’s writing style. Creating a writing program provides you an opportunity to teach your lawyers the same style rules and in so doing, makes their writing more alike. By making everyone ’s writing similar, your readers come to recognize your firm’s writing, as opposing to an individual ’s style. Furthermore, it makes revisions easier when everyone agrees what writing should look like and how it should be revised.

Once you’ve convinced your lawyers of the benefits of a writing program you have to implement one. What does a successful writing program entail? The following are some suggestions.

Discuss good writing. Explain to the attorneys what good writing is and set out three or four principles you want your lawyers to learn, emulate and live by. I suggest you want your lawyers to:
(1) write plain English
(2) say more with fewer words
(3) write in an active, direct manner
If your lawyers accomplish these three goals their writing will be as good as or better than the competition.

Purchase textbooks. Good writing starts with good grammar. Purchase a grammar book for adults, such as "Whose Grammar Book is This Anyway," written by a lawyer. And who could do without Strunk & White’s " Elements of Style." In addition to purchasing 2 to 3 grammar books for your students, purchase 1 or 2 books on style. Create a "writing" reading list, and have your attorneys read a book a month.

Discuss the textbooks. Meet once a month to discuss the book’s highlights and what the attorneys have learned from reading them. You will be amazed how many grammar and style rules you’ve forgotten, and how many you never learned in the first place.

Develop a firm style. One of the overarching goals is to create a firm "voice" or "style" to which all the attorneys subscribe too. To do so, develop a list of writing rules which most, if not all the attorneys agree should be followed. Many of these rules will be derived from the writing books you will ask your attorneys to read. Once you have all the rules, write them down and circulate them. These will be the firm’s commandments which everyone will be encouraged to follow.

Get Published. Encourage your lawyers to submit articles to newsletters, newspapers and magazines. The process of getting an article published is a great way to develop one’s writing skills. Consider making it mandatory to have all your attorneys publish at least one article a year.

Good writing is crucial to your firm’s success. Develop a plan to help your attorneys write better and get your attorneys behind it. As their writing improves, your firm’s profile will improve too and you’ll be left wondering why you waited so long to institute a writing program.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Back of an Envelope

After 22 years, the president of my alma mater is stepping down. Modesto "Mitch" Maidique recently announced that he is stepping down as President of Florida International University. Why? The answer lies on the back of an envelope.

IN 1986, Maidique became president of a small South Florida university. At the time, he was a former Stanford professor and entrepreneur with no experience in university administration. That did not deter him. On the back of an Eastern Airlines envelope, he laid out his dream for the university, listing his goals:

* transforming the school into a research powerhouse
* reaching $100 million in research grants
* securing an endowment of $100 million
* seeing 100 doctoral students graduate
* creating a law school
* creating a medical school
* creating an architectural school
* creating a 1-A football team

Despite being approached by 29 other colleges to be their leader, he remained at FIU. His dedication paid off. This year, he finished checking the last items off his list. Having accomplished his dream, his job was finished and it was time to step down. And it all started with some notes on the back of an envelope.

So many of us went through high school and college and law school with big dreams. Maybe it was to run for office or start a charity or write a book. Perhaps it was to start a business or travel the world. But somewhere along the way, those dreams were pushed aside and packed away like old magazines in the back of the closet. Families, jobs and responsibilities took over. You promise yourself you will pursue them some day - after you finish that big case, after the kids graduate, after you retire. Pushing them further into the distance.

I am going to suggest something novel. You probably have a dream that gnaws at you, that you daydream about while driving to work, that keeps you up at night as you lie in bed, with your arm tucked under the pillow. Take one of your business cards, turn it around to the blank side, and write it down. Coach high school football? Write it down. Teach a law school class? Write it down. Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, permit yourself to reduce it to writing. Now you have it in black and white. Carry this card in your wallet or purse until you accomplish what is on the back of it. Depending on the dream, it may take months, even years - possibly 22 as in the case of Maidique.

Spend the next week or two thinking about how you can achieve this dream. You do not have the time? You probably have more time than you think. When you shower, think about how you will accomplish your dream. When you drive to and from work, think about it. Watch just one less half-hour of television each day and think about it. You have the end in mind - the dream - just think about how to get there. Just as you write a business plan for a new venture or draft your strategy for trial, do the same for your dream. Keep your roadmap handy. Consult it regularly and do not be shy to modify it. The dream will stay the same. The route there, however, may change.

And every day do something to fulfill the dream. Some days you will have an hour or more. Some days you will only have a few minutes. But each day, work toward achieving the goal. You will not get closer to your dreams by standing still. They will not come to you - you have to pursue them.

Many lawyers are dissatisfied with their careers. We get bogged down with the minutia of the daily grind and lose track of the big picture, of the big ideas we once held dear and sacred. Permit yourself to reduce those dreams to writing and chase them. The passion and enthusiasm of the pursuit will permeate everything else you do, and reinvigorate you at home and at work.

Now go find that business card.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Preparing for the Deposition of the Opposing Party

The most important deposition you will take is the deposition of the opposing party. Getting him to make the right admissions can secure your case and sink his. How do you prepare for it? Consider the following.

Learn everything you can about the opposing party. Do your due diligence and find out everything you can about the opposing party. Do a background search on him to see if he has a criminal record. Do a Google search to see if he has his own website or blog or if he is the subject of a chatroom or has been written about in an article. Do a litigation search to see if he has ever sued or been sued before. If he has, track down any depositions he gave or answers to interrogatories he signed. Do a bankruptcy search to see if he has ever filed for bankruptcy. If appropriate, get his medical, employment, IRS, social security, medicare and military records.

Get all the records and prepare a chronology. Get all the relevant records, whether they be contracts, handwritten notes, or medical records, and put them in chronological order. Then prepare a chronology summarizing these records. Put the chronology and all the records referenced in the chronology into a binder. This will help you gain an appreciation of everything that has occurred and the significance of the various events and documents.

Consider what you hope the opposing party will say. You need to go into the deposition of the opposing party as you would go into any deposition, with a plan of what you hope to get him to say. Depositions serve to gather information. But more importantly, they serve to pin down witnesses and to procure admissions favorable to your case and harmful to theirs. But before you can secure those helpful admissions, you have to decide what admissions you wish to procure. To do that, look at the jury instructions to see what you need to prove and what the other side needs to prove. Then consider what admissions you could elicit that support your position or undermining theirs.

For example, if you represent the defendant, you would try to get the plaintiff to admit to facts that show he does not meet one of the elements of the cause of action he alleges in the complaint. Alternatively, you would try to get the plaintiff to admit to facts that support one of your affirmative defenses. Whatever questions you ask, start with figuring out what you want the opposing party to say and then draft an outline that attempts to elicit that information.

Prepare a detailed outline for the deposition. After you’ve gathered all the facts and understand how the law applies to those facts and the allegations and affirmative defenses in the complaint and answer, then you’ll be prepared to draft an outline for the deposition.

Prepare your outline similar to the one you would prepare for trial. In fact, the more you think of this deposition as if it were trial, the more clear, the more concise and the more penetrating your questions will be.

Divide the outline into sections, with each section addressing a specific point or issue you want the opposing party to address. For example, you would have a section on the party’s prior litigation (if you are aware, for example, that this is his third personal injury suit).

When addressing a given topic, start with general questions, and proceed from there to asking more specific questions, until you focus on the specific issues you want the deponent to discuss. Make sure your questions are simple and only contain one fact per question. And most importantly, ask as many leading questions as possible, as you are allowed to do when deposing the opposing party. You want your questions to tell the other side the answer you are looking for and you are hoping that he will agree with you as much as possible.

When preparing for the opposing party deposition, take the time to learn everything you can about the party and about the facts and law that relate to the litigation. Once you’ve gathered and digested all this information, take the time to think through what you hope to get the other side to say and prepare an outline aimed at getting the admissions you are looking for.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How to Prepare a Case for Trial

When should you start preparing for trial? Days before? Weeks before? The best time to start preparing for trial is at the start of the case. Start every case with the end in mind - the verdict you want - and pursue that end during every step in the litigation. You cannot assume that your case will settle. Do not prepare to settle a case. Prepare to try it. That way, if you do settle it, it will be due in part to your trial preparation. And if you do not settle it, you will be prepared to try the case and win. The following are some suggestions to keep in mind to help you achieve the results you seek at trial.

Develop a trial theme. At trial, you should have a theme around which you will present your case. The theme serves as the foundation of your case. Everything you do during the course of litigation, should build on that theme. Keep it simple and short. You should start developing your theme as early as possible. With a theme in mind, you can start thinking about what evidence you will want to introduce at trial and what evidence you will want to keep out. The theme will assist you in deciding what motions to file, what witnesses to interview, whom to depose and what to ask them to advance your theme.

During litigation, you may realize that your theme needs some tweaking or deserves to be discarded and be replaced altogether. You are better off if you realize that your theme doesn’t work early on in the case, when you have enough time to change it, than to realize it on the eve of trial, when it is too late for improvisations.

Be first. Always be a step ahead of opposing counsel. You want to be proactive and set the course of litigation. Be the first to interview witnesses, to serve written discovery, to subpoena records from third parties and take depositions. Being first often affects the outcome of litigation. The first attorney to interview witnesses can take their sworn statements and lock them into their testimony. The first to serve discovery gets a jump on obtaining records and facts to support his case. Also, by pushing your case ahead, you show the other side that you and your client are in control.

Think out of the box. What can you do differently? Look at your case from different perspectives. Be creative. Are there other causes of actions you can plead? Other defenses to raise? Are there other witnesses or other documents which may support your case? Too often, lawyers get into a rut of following the same protocol when they work on a certain type of case. Don’t fall into this trap. Whether it’s a slip and fall or breach of contract, think of new ways to approach the case.

Think your case through. When you first start a case, develop a case strategy. Figure out what you need to do to win at trial and prepare a step by step plan to achieve your goal. Developing a plan ensures that everything you do has a purpose. Without a detailed plan, you’re likely to pursue avenues and do things which do nothing to advance your case, or worse, undermine it.

Do your research. Spend some quality time in the library to research the elements of the causes of action in your case and the affirmative defenses. You need to know what each side has to prove to win his case, what discovery to pursue, what to ask witnesses in deposition and what motions to file.

Read the jury instructions. If you are plaintiff’s counsel, the jury instructions tell you what elements you have to prove to win at trial. If you are defense counsel, the instructions give you a road map to poking holes in your opponent’s case. From the beginning of the case, you need to know what the jury instructions expect you to present to a jury, so that during every step in the litigation you are gathering those facts in the interrogatories and request for production you propound, the subpoena for records you issue and in the questions you ask in depositions.

Having the facts you need to win shouldn’t be an accident. If you don’t know the jury instructions from the beginning of the case, the information you elicit which supports your case will be nothing more than coincidental. Know what you need to prove at trial and take the needed steps to elicit that information.

Have the court enter a scheduling order. Some courts enter detailed scheduling orders which spell out each phase of discovery and pre-trial deadlines. Others provide less guidance. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, take steps to ensure that a detailed scheduling order is entered spelling out deadlines for expert disclosure, who discloses first, physical examinations of the plaintiff, depositions, etc.

File dispositive motions early. If you can win on summary judgment, start building your case early and file your motion as soon as it is appropriate to do so. Early analysis can help you isolate the weaknesses in your opponents case, one or more of which may be fatal.

Get your experts lined up early. Due to the expense, many clients prefer to delay the hiring of experts. However, being an ounce wise may prove to be a pound foolish. Experts can help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case and that of your opponent. An expert can help you develop your case strategy and determine what discovery to propound and what questions to ask at deposition.

Let the client know what to expect. Whether it is the cost associated with trial or what the outcome may be, make sure your client knows what to expect if the case goes to trial.

Success at trial is not an accident. It takes time and preparation, and that commitment of time and effort starts at the very inception of the case and continues through the time of trial. There are no shortcuts. Think through your case, come up with a theme and game plan and commit all your energies to seeing your goals fulfilled.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Breaking The Ice

It won't be long until your next cocktail hour, conference or reception. There is no value to attend these by standing in a corner, clutching your drink and waiting for it to be over. They are networking events. But how do you network, you ask? How do you break the ice with total strangers? Consider the following tips:

Bring a friend. Bring someone you know with whom you can talk between mingling with others. You will feel less nervous if you have someone you know nearby. However, make it clear to your friend that the purpose of the event is to network. Don't fall into complacency and spend the entire night speaking with your friend.

Look for a friend. Odds are that you know someone at the event. When you spot her, she will likely be in a small group. Walk up, re-introduce yourself and introduce yourself to the others in the group. You have now met several new people you can get to know.

Come early. It is easier to meet new people when there are fewer people to meet. Arrive early and you will likely find a number of individuals by themselves, like you, that you can walk up to and start a conversation with.

Lines are a great place to meet people.
When standing in line to get a drink or standing at the buffet table, make a point to introduce yourself to those in front and behind you.

Work the room.
Make a point to make your way around the room, making an effort to speak to folks you do not know. You will find that most people at the event are there for the same reason you are - to network.

Stay engaged.
When you are in a conversation, stay engaged. Do not constantly be looking over a person's shoulders in search of someone else. No one likes to feel that they are simply filling time for you while you look for someone more interesting or more important with whom to speak.

Bring business cards.
Make sure you bring enough business cards to hand out. When you receive one in return make sure to study it a second and make a connection between the card and the person handing it to you. Also, to the extent you promise someone you are going to send them an article you wrote, put them in contact with someone else or provide them information, make a point to write that down on the card they hand you. It will serve as a reminder to you and it will show them that you are conscientious and plan on carrying out your promise.

Follow up with hand written notes.
When you return to your office, send handwritten notes on personal stationary to the folks you met. No one writes notes anymore. They will be remembered.

With a little planning and a little effort, you can make your next networking opportunity a successful one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Making the Most of Your Next Conference

Before long, you will be attending a voluntary bar association conference or seminar. It will be a great networking opportunity, particularly if you consider the following advice.

Due your due diligence. Before the conference, procure a list of attendees. Reach out to everyone you know either by e-mail or preferably a handwritten note, letting them know you will be there and suggesting you meet for a meal or drinks. Breakfasts are great for networking - they give you a jump on the day and are less expensive than other meals. Leave yourself some time open for impromptu meal plans with new folks you will meet. Also, plan on meeting any existing clients in the area.

Arrive early. Flying in and out of a conference as quick as possible is not productive. Work is work, but to the extent possible, arrive before the first cocktail party and leave after the last one. The longer you are there, the more people you will meet.

Attend everything. Go to every cocktail hour, meal, special event and everything else on the agenda. Arrive early. It is easier to network when there are fewer people in the room. Also, the conference's staff will be there meeting and greeting and will introduce you to the organization's leadership. Also, arriving early does not mean you leave early. Stay until they close the bar.

Target your networking. It is important to meet as many people as possible, but you should also have a plan of meeting three to five specific individuals who will help you develop business. It may be a certain in house counsel, or someone in the organization's leadership. Figure out where they will be, find them and introduce yourself. Treat them to a meal , get to know them and lay the foundation for a long term relationship.

Always be on. Every minute you are at a conference, you have the potential of developing a relationship that may result in business for your firm. Keep that in mind with every interaction you have with everyone you meet. You should always treat everyone the same anyway, so this is good practice.

Follow up with personal notes. After you return home, look at the attendee list and circle the names of those whom you met, had meals with or goofed off with (yes, occasionally playing hooky with another attendee may from the basis of a lasting personal friendship and business relationship). Write them handwritten notes and invite them to look you up if they are ever in town.

Conferences are a great way to develop lasting relationships that may result in referrals. It just takes a little planning to make the most of them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Making Things Right When Things Go Wrong

I hate to tell you this, but as a new attorney, you will make mistakes. In fact, you will make your share of them. No matter how smart you are, or how well your firm trains you, or how closely you are supervised, you will do something wrong from time to time. When you do, its your job to right the wrong. You do that by doing the following:

Don’t brush it under the rug. When you make a mistake it is tempting to hide it from the partner’s view in hopes that it never gets discovered. Don’t ever submit to this temptation. Not only is it dishonest, it can make a small problem into a great big one. That mistake you made today may be one that can be addressed and rectified today. Ignore it, however, and it may grow, and infect the entire case, and the day may come when it’s too late to rectify it. Like a cancer, if diagnosed and treated early, a mistake is often treatable. If ignored, it may grow and spread and damage everything in its path.

Size up the situation. Was a mistake really made, or do you simply think you made one? Before blaming yourself, think through whether a mistake was made at all. If you did make a mistake, consider how big of a mistake it really is. That mountain you’re worried about may only be a molehill. Generally panic sets in when you make a mistake, your imagination gets the best of you and you start planning what life will be like after you get fired. Stop, take a deep breath and rest assured that things will work out. Even if it turns out your mistake was a big one, know that things still will work out.

Think through solutions on how to rectify your mistake. There are few mistakes that cannot be undone. Think through the various options that are available to help you clean up any mess you may have created. This is the time to speak to your mentor at the firm and seek his guidance on how to make things right. Also, it may take more than simply thinking or talking through the problem to come up with an answer. You may have to do some research to find the answer you are looking for.

Face the music. Once you know the scope of your mistake and have devised a way or two or more on how to fix it, go to the partner in charge of that file and tell him what you did and how you plan on fixing it. He will appreciate you owning up to your mistake, even though he may be upset that you made it. He will also appreciate that you have thought of different solutions, even though he is annoyed he has to take up his time to address your mistake.

Your boss gives you assignments to take problems off his plate and give them to you. When you make a mistake, you have managed to not only give him back the problem he gave you, you have managed to make it bigger. The least you can do is come up with a game plan to resolve the new problem you created.

Discuss how best to rectify the mistake. After you’ve presented the partner your proposed solution to your mistake, talk through how best to address the problem. Again, the partner may not think the problem is a major one. Conversely, he may think it is much worse than you think it is. Either way, you need to have a heart to heart to come up with a solution.

Learn from the mistake. Whether it is a big or small mistake, learn as much as you can from it. Maybe you need to learn to take more time when researching an issue. Perhaps you have to learn to probe more deeply in deposition. Whatever the lesson is, take it to heart and learn from it.

Maturity as a lawyer is owning up to your mistakes, figuring out how to deal with them and letting your boss know about the mess you got him into and how you plan on getting him out of it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to Prepare for a Hearing in Federal Court

Hearings in federal court are a bit different than ones in state court. First, in state court, judges generally rule on motions at hearings set by the parties. In federal court, hearings are the exception rather than the rule. Most motions in federal court are resolved on the papers. In fact, in federal court you need to request a hearing and the judge, depending on the motion and issues involved, may choose not to hold a hearing, believing that the papers are adequate. If you do get a hearing date, however, consider the following when preparing for that hearing.

Don’t rehash the papers. The judge and her law clerks have read the motions, responses and replies, have read and dissected the cases cited in them and have likely done their own research and have uncovered additional cases. Therefore, don’t start by rehashing what you said in the papers. You’ll bore the judge, and possibly insult her by implying that she has not read what you wrote.

Focus on your theme. Instead of summarizing what you said in your papers, pick out the theme you emphasized in those papers and make that the centerpiece of your argument. If you can’t reduce your argument to a simple theme that explains why you should win, then recouch your argument until you can.

Practice your argument out loud. After you have prepared an outline of your argument, and you have organized all the documents and cases you will be referencing throughout the hearing, close the door to your office, and practice your argument out loud, not just once but three times. In the process of doing this, you will hear for yourself what parts of your arguments work and which parts don’t, and you can make the necessary adjustments.

Be prepared to be interrupted. Treat the hearing like you would an appellate court hearing. The judge is having a hearing as much to allow you to present your arguments as to have her questions answered. When preparing for the hearing, think about the questions you would ask about the facts and the law if you were the judge, and have short, direct answers prepared for those questions.

Keep your composure. There is something about standing before a federal court judge, in her large courtroom, with her federal clerks and assistants sitting nearby. It can be enough to cause the words to choke in your throat. To get over the anxiety, make a point to accompany another attorney from your office to a hearing he is having in federal court, preferably a hearing in front of the same judge before whom you will be arguing. Watch how he presents himself, the arguments he makes and how he answers questions. After the hearing is over, quiz him about how he prepared and why he said what he said and why he made the arguments he made. This reconnaissance will take the edge off the anxiety.

Be prepared and be courteous. All judges expect that the attorneys who appear before them be prepared, professional and courteous. This is particularly true of federal court judges. To meet these expectations, have a hearing binder prepared with an outline of your arguments, annotated to the exhibits and cases that support those arguments, with copies of those exhibits and cases in your binder. Having everything in one place, organized and well thought out, as opposed to combing through a messy file, shows that you are prepared.

In addition to being prepared, be courteous. No matter how opposing counsel behaves, whether he interrupts you, or even insults you, never succumb to his level, however tempting. Don’t take the bait.

Arguing motions in federal court can be nerve racking. To alleviate your fears, do everything you can to prepare, take a deep breath and do the best you can.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Making the Most of the Drive to Work

I spend a half hour driving to work and a half hour driving home. At 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, that is 250 hours each year I commute to and from work. For some of you, it is twice that. That is a lot of wasted time. Learn to make the most of it by turning your car into a resource.

Instead of listening to talk radio or music, consider learning a foreign language or listening to motivational or business books on CD. In 250 hours, you could learn conversational Spanish. You could become an expert in a field. You could hear all the leading business and marketing books to help you get ahead. The most important commodity we have is time and you have to learn to harness every last minute of it and make the most of it.

Now, listening to 250 hours worth of CDs can get expensive. To lessen the cost, consider checking out CDs from your local library. Associations you belong to may have a lending program for such materials. Also, there is a great deal you can download for free or at little cost onto your I-Pod and listen to it through your car stereo. And if you are truly motivated, start a local club with friends where each of you buys certain books on CD, listens to them and then lends them to the others. If you can recruit just four other participants, you will cut your annual cost by 80%.

Time in the car does not have to be wasted time. Decide how to improve yourself over the next 12 months and look for materials you can listen to that will help you reach your goal. You will be surprised just how much your car is an educational tool.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Power of Sound Bites

If you want to master the art of persuasion, you must master the art of the sound bite. Politicians do it. Advertisers do it. Motivational speakers do it. They understand to boil down their ideas into catchy phrases and use them as a form of shorthand to catch and keep their audiences’ attention. Speak all you want, but most of what you say will be forgotten. To say something that will be remembered and that will influence, find a way to reduce it to a sound bite. Think about the printed ads, television commercials and speeches that have stuck with you. I bet what you remember are the catch phrases. They hook you and reel you in.

So when you are pursuing clients and convincing them to go with you instead of the competition, you need to think through how you can serve their needs. How your company is different. Why it serves their best interest to go with you. Write down the answers to all these questions. Then think about reducing your answers to several themes - central ideas reflecting why prospective clients need you. Once you do this, reduce those themes to sounds bites - one or more catch phrases that reflect the essence of your company and its ideals - phrases that resonate and that will stick in the minds of your audience. Just a few words - the right ones - can make the difference between pitching and selling - between talking and closing.

Where do you come up with sound bites? They are all around you. They are in the articles you read, they are in the lyrics you listen to and they are in the movies and television shows you watch. Train yourself to look out for them and start incorporating them into your selling. You will discover that with them, your power of persuasion will improve significantly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Vision Thing

If you want to succeed at work, in your family and in your community then you need to become a leader. In any organization, there are the followers – the ones who do as others tell them, who choose not to think for themselves and are content to take orders. Then there are the managers, who direct others on how to implement someone else’s idea. And then there are the leaders, the ones who as Stephen Covey puts it, "start with the end in mind" and devise a plan on how to get there. They have the "vision thing," as some call it – they think big picture, they see what others do not and are not afraid of the expanse of their dreams. They are the ones who help organizations take huge leaps forward. Most organizations lack the leadership that they crave and need. Fill that void, and you will transform your organization.

But how do you become a leader? You say you are not the managing partner of your law firm? How can you lead from the middle of the organization or even the bottom? A title is not a prerequisite to be a leader. You do not wait until you have advanced the ranks before becoming a leader. As John Maxwell says, leadership has nothing to do with your position –it has every thing to do with your attitude and your perception of who you are. Start thinking like a leader; start thinking about the bigger picture, and the "end in mind" and develop the "vision thing." And then have the nerve to present your ideas to your firm and put your back into it and put forth the effort to make those ideas into reality. No one is going to make you a leader. You cannot wait until you get a title to become one. You need to create the opportunities, think big and be willing to implement your dreams. Your position may only be "middle management," but others will soon start seeing you as a leader. And with time, your firm will reward you and your title will soon match your efforts. Your title will come to reflect your leadership.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

There was a time when other than speaking to a person face-to-face, the mainstay of communication was writing letters. There were no e-mails or instant messages or Myspace accounts. There were no computers or Blackberries or cell phones. There was just a quill, a bottle of ink and a piece of paper. And with these simple implements, relationships developed and flourished. It is how John and Abigail Adams held each other up during this country’s fight for independence. On March 31, 1776, Abigail wrote John, “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow-creatures of theirs.” Who writes like this today? What has happened to our gift to move others with our words? If you recapture the lost art of letter writing, you will find you personal and business relationships blossom.

No one writes letters any more. So when someone receives a written letter in the mail, they cherish it. Those letters are often keep. Read again. Put away, only to pulled out to be read again. If you want to make an impression, buy yourself stationary - professional looking stationary with your name and address across the top of the page and on the corner of the envelope - and commit to writing at least one letter a week. Pick an old acquaintance or an executive you met at a networking event. Sit down at your desk, with your stationary and your letter writing pen (I would suggest to make the experience complete, go out and splurge on a nice pen that you only use to write letters), and draft a letter. The first few letters are difficult. With e-mails and word processing, it is hard not to second guess every word you put down on paper. It will take some time to learn to write letters. Some of you will find the experience too bothersome to even pick up. Others will throw down your pen in frustration and your stationary will collect dust in the bottom drawer of your desk. But for those of you who stick with it, writing letters will become a natural and regular part of your life. You will find that these letters will forge closer relationships with family and friends. You will also find that these letters will forge closer relationships with business prospects and clients. In short, the forgotten art of letter writing will be good for you and good for business.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Way of the Samurai

According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird other than the one that is has first marked.

Hagakure - Yamamoto Tsunetomo

The Japanese Samurai led their lives by the Bushido code, or the "Way of the Warrior." Chosen at birth, their training began in infancy - instructed on how to bow, how to dress, how to address their masters, how to withstand cold without shivering, how to withstand pain without flinching. They were taught to use the sword as an extension of themselves. And they followed a specific etiquette in everything they did - whether in every day life or in war. Justice was supreme under their code. Crooked and unjust actions were beneath them. Honor and courage governed their deeds and words. Honesty and sincerity were valued more than their very lives. For the feudal Samurai, it was more than just a job - it was a way of life. It defined them. They would rather take their own lives (for which they carried a second, smaller sword) than betray themselves - betray the Way of the Samurai. There was honor in the Way, and disgrace outside of it. There was meaning in fighting for their towns and provinces and emptiness in choosing to simply stand by.

Today, we lawyers belong to a similar warrior class. Though we have hung up the swords and silenced the battle cries, there remains in us a warrior spirit. We carry the duty and the privilege to fight for our clients, and we do so according to our own code of ethics -our own Way of the Samurai. It is easy to forget this as we perform the day to day tasks of responding to discovery and preparing motions and writing confirmatory letters. It is easy to forget the privilege and obligation we have to provide our clients the best representation possible. Just as the Samurai defended their feudal lords, we stand in defense of our clients, with the proverbial sword at the ready.

There is great honor in what we do. We can derive pride and solace and meaning in our roles as modern day warriors. What we do is more than just a job or a career - it is a way of life. We cannot allow the drudgeries and the small tasks get in the way. They obscure our calling, the reason we became lawyers in the first place - to fight for our clients, to give them a voice, to defend their rights.

We can learn about ourselves from the warriors who came before us. We can appreciate that our profession, in giving a voice to our clients and ushering them through the civil justice system, is a noble one - where words have replaced swords and our professional code of ethics have replaced the Bushido code. We are modern day warriors, and to consider ourselves something less - ones who simply push paper or bill hours, is to cheapen ourselves, to lose sight of who we are, who we are called to be. Work can become unsatisfying if we focus on the mundane - defining our lives by the little tasks and bothersome obstacles. We are so much more than that.

It is time to recapture our warrior spirit. It is time to don the robe, sheath the sword in its scabbard and prepare for battle. It is time to reclaim the honor and the responsibility and the grace that comes with representing our clients, lending them our voices and standing before them, prepared to bring the sword down in all alacrity. We are the modern day Samurai. And we are prepared to do justice.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

10 Things You Should Be Doing Now

1) Writing Letters. Buy stationary and get in the habit of writing letters to colleagues and folks you meet at networking events. Handwritten notes are a great way to develop professional relationships.

2) Make the most of your drive to work. Learn a foreign language on CD or listen to motivational or business books on CD.

3) Exercise. What we do is very stressful. Take the time to spend 30 minutes a day to exercise.

4) Watch what you eat. You are constantly traveling for depositions and hearings. Prepack healthy snacks like nuts or protein bars to avoid the candy bars at the airport.

5) Get to know everyone at your firm. Make the effort to develop relationships with as many co-workers as you can, from the top partner to the mail room guy. These personal relationships make work more enjoyable.

6) Get a mentor. Find someone who can help you navigate the practice of law.
7) Be a mentor. Help someone else navigate the practice of law.

8) Read the legal news. Keep up with what’s going in your legal community. You learn a lot about the lawyers you go up against and the judges you appear before.

9) Borrow CLE materials. Ask to borrow CLE materials other attorneys bring back from their seminars. They generally contain a lot of "how-to" practical advice.

10) Read others’ transcripts. Read the deposition and hearing transcripts of other attorneys at the office to gain a different perspective on how to do things.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Time Management 101

What, the day is over? How about the research you wanted to get to? Or those phone calls you wanted to make? Or that letter that should have gone out? Sometimes it seems that being a lawyer means playing catch up. It does not have to be that way though. A few changes can allow you to squeeze more time out of your day, whether you need it for work, for family or for leisure.
Get a jump on the day. Many attorneys start their day at 9:00 a.m. Why not start at 8:30 or even 8:00? Getting a jump on the day, before the phone starts ringing and others start strolling into the office, is a great way to tackle projects without interruptions. Getting into the office early improves the odds of getting out early.

Keep lists. To avoid wasting time figuring out what to do next, prepare a list which tells you what to do next. In fact prepare two lists, a case list and a “to do” list.

Keep a running list of all your active cases. Scan it every day to determine if you need to do anything new on your cases.
Keep a “to do” list where you list all the projects you have to work on. Delete items as you complete them and add new ones as you think of them. The list lets you see everything you have to do all at once, helping you prioritize what to tackle first.

Develop action plans. Whenever you start working on a new file, develop an action plan. Plan a strategy to win the case and plot out what you need to do to get there. If you develop an action plan and know what you need to do to implement it, you won’t waste time constantly trying to figure out what to do next.

Don’t underestimate the power of thinking over doing. My high school English teacher used to tell me that the real writing occurs when the pen is down. What she meant is that before you start you need to know where you want to end up, whether it’s writing a motion, doing research or attacking a case. If you want to save time, really save time, then expend some time thinking through what you want to accomplish.

Act, Don’t React. As a follow up to thinking things through, learn to make things happen in your cases rather than reacting to what others do. Whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant, you can set the course of your case, and by doing so, you can create timetables that fit your schedule. You can initiate the court to enter a scheduling order that suits you. You can be the one who sets the key witnesses when you want them set. If you want to be in charge of your calender, don’t let opposing counsel set the agenda.

Become intimately familiar with your calender. Every day, look at your calender and scan through the next month’s appointments and deadlines. This way you can plan ahead and avoid any surprises.

Put yourself on a schedule. Create deadlines for yourself and stick to them. When you give yourself an assignment give yourself a due date to ensure you’re not rushing at the last minute.
Set realistic deadlines. When you set deadlines for yourself, set reasonable ones. You’re not going to be able to finish that motion for summary judgment in two days, especially if you have a deposition to take and interrogatories to answer. When setting deadlines, set them far enough in advance to allow yourself enough time to do what you need to do.

Keep a clean desk. So much of time management is organization. If the research you want is under a huge pile and the phone number you want is under another huge pile, then expect to waste a lot of time. Avoid this by keeping a neat office and a neat desk.

Leverage the staff. Learn what to do yourself and what you can assign to a junior associate, a paralegal or to your secretary. Making the most of your time sometimes means making the most of others’ time. Determine what you can do and what can competently be done by someone else and assign it.

It never seems as though we have enough time to do everything we want to do. You blink and another day has gone by and your “to do” pile gets higher. To take control of your schedule rather than having it control you, take the time to plan ahead, making sure that every step you take takes you a step closer to reaching your objectives.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How to Be a Better Negotiator

Everyone hears about the million dollar verdicts. But what about the million dollar settlements? Though not as glamorous, they require no less skill to achieve.

Do Your Homework. Learn everything you can about the other side. Do they have a take-no-prisoners attitude toward negotiation or are they friendly and cooperative? Are they the type to blow their top and walk away from the table, or are they dedicated to solving problems and reaching resolutions? You can get this information from other executives who have dealt with them, from news story articles or possibly from the internet.

Think Win-Win.
So often, we think win-lose. For us to win, it must come at a cost to the other side. However, with a little thought, you can think of solutions that benefit both parties. Why help the other side? Because to the extent you can help others reach their goals, they will be more open to helping you reach yours.

Think Outside the Box.
Think of new, innovative approaches to negotiation. There may be alternatives to simply paying the other side more money in order to reach a deal.

Know Your Bottom Line. Go into a negotiation knowing what your bottom line is and be prepared to walk away if your minimum needs are not being met. Otherwise you may reach a deal on terms you cannot live with.

Know the Other Side’s Bottom Line. Just as you need to know what your bottom line is, try to discover what the other side’s bottom line is. That way, you don’t force the other side into a deal that they can’t live with. A deal does not mean anything if its only on paper.

Put Yourself in the Other’s Shoes. Do your best to learn what the other side’s needs and wants are. Try to understand what motivates them, what they seek to get out of the negotiation. That way, you will be able to devise solutions that will satisfy those needs and in turn, will encourage the other side to meet your needs.

Be Patient. Reaching a deal takes time. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time. Be prepared to negotiate, to haggle, to go back and forth until a resolution is reached or until it’s painfully obvious that it will never be reached. If you’re going to sit down with the other side to work something out, take the time to do it right.

Be Honest. You may be tempted to lie during negotiations. Don’t. A successful negotiation is built first on trust. If the other side can’t trust you, he never will be willing to settle on your terms. When you say something mean it. If it’s your last offer, take it or leave, be prepared to walk away if they reject it. Otherwise, you’ll lose credibility.

Don’t Assume the Other Side Will Be Honest. Just because you’re honest does not mean the other side will be. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mastering Technology

There was a time when attorneys could get away with not learning how to use a computer, and burying their heads in the sand when it came to technology. Those days are long gone. If you want to succeed and thrive in the modern law firm, you not only have to be familiar with technology - you have to master it. To do so, consider the following:

Learn Word. Knowing Word Perfect is well and good, but today, most everyone uses Word as their word processor, and more than that, are intimately familiar with all its features. Take the time to go through the help functions that accompany the program and consider buying an Idiot Guide or Word for Dummies to learn it well.

Learn Excel. In addition to learning Word, learn Excel, the leading spreadsheet program. Whether you are preparing charts or keeping track of a lot of information, Excel is the perfect program for such jobs and an application that merits being mastered.

Learn Power Point. Whether it is for trial, a hearing on a dispositive motion, a presentation to a client or for a CLE course, today Power Point presentations are everywhere, and if you haven’ t prepared one yet, you’re one of the few who hasn’t. Again, there are books for the uninitiated. Buy them and read them.

Learn Westlaw. Law libraries have become an anachronism. You need to learn Westlaw, and to save your firm and your clients money, learn it efficiently. Also, Westlaw has all sorts of databases other than cases and statutes that have the information you are looking for.

Master the web. The internet is your best friend. Through Google, you will find out all sorts of things about that plaintiff or that expert you are preparing to depose. You will find all sorts of journal articles and websites dedicated to the scientific issues you are trying to get your brain wrapped around. Facts and data that would taken days to find in the basement of some library are at your fingertips.

Scan, scan, scan. We are headed toward a paperless law firm. It is only a matter of time before every document, whether received by a law firm or sent out, including every piece of discovery, will be scanned, sorted and organized, to be retrieved and reviewed with the touch of a few keys. Get used to scanning or having your secretary scan all your documents. You will be amazed how much time is saved when you no longer have to track down pieces of paper in your firm’s file room or at the bottom of a pile on the partner’s desk.

Get a PDA. Today, with clients expecting every access every minute of every day, you cannot leave the office without a PDA (personal digital assistant), to access your e-mail, the communication mode of choice these days.

External access to your firm’s computer system. Chances are you r firm has a way for you to access its computer system, whether you are at home, at the airport or in a hotel. If not, discuss with your firm about getting external access for everyone. This will allow you to work from home or anywhere else for that matter. Today, law offices are no longer confined by four walls.

Learn trial technology. These days, technology is king in the courtroom. So, what is the latest technology? Well, that is a bit of a trick question, because court room technology is always changing. By the time this is published, the newest and latest would have changed. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for seminars, articles and web articles discussing the latest fads, trends and what works and what does n0t in the courtroom.

Technology, regardless of how overwhelming it gets at times, can and will make your job easier. It will particularly make it easier to manage the ever increasing amount of information and documents involved in litigation. Learn it, master it and live it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pay It Forward

A few years ago a novel came out titled "Pay It Forward," followed by a movie adaptation. The protagonist was a 12-year-old whose teacher challenged him and his classmates to come up with an idea that would change the world and to implement it. The boy’s idea? "Pay it forward." He does something really good for three people. When they offer to repay the favor, he tells them to "pay it forward." He asks each of them to do really good things for three others, and when those others ask how they can repay the favor, they are to be asked to do something really good for three others, and so on. The idea is that from three acts of kindness, thousands more will be born. Now it’s your turn to "pay it forward."

As young attorneys, we may not view ourselves in a position to help others. We may think we do not have sufficient experience, or know-how or influence to be a positive influence on others. How can I help the other young associates when I’m still figuring things out? How can I handle that pro bono case when I have never argued a motion in court? But the fact is that you know more than you think, you have learned more than you can know and you can change things beyond your beliefs. It starts with finding a need and meeting it.

Perhaps another attorney in the office struggles with his writing. Perhaps your firm needs help with the staff. Perhaps a charitable organization needs the analytical skills of an attorney, even an inexperienced one. Find what those needs are, seek them out, and fill them. You have been blessed with a career in law. There are billions of people on this world who, because of their financial and social circumstances, are barely scraping by each day. They could never have made the life you have. If you had been them, you would not be here. Reflect on that, take it to heart, remember it, and when you come to terms with the fact that so little of your success has anything to do with you, pay what you have been given in this world forward.

What are some of the things you can do to share your blessings with others? Consider the following:

Volunteer. There are so many avenues available to you to volunteer. The obvious? Do pro bono. Most voluntary bar associations have an arm that pairs attorneys like you with needy clients who, because of their lack of financial wherewithal, cannot afford the legal services they need. The may lose their homes, get thrown out of their apartments, get thrown in jail, lose government benefits or even get deported without your help. You can make a real difference in these people’s lives.

In addition to pro bono, consider doing volunteer work for organizations that help out kids - Big Brother, Big Sister, The Boys Club, your local YMCA. These kids need role models and what better role model than someone who has made it through law school, passed the Florida Bar and spends every day speaking on behalf of others?

Lead. If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, become a leader in your law firm, in your local bar association, in your community. You don’t need a title to be a leader. Even if you’re not the managing partner, the president of an organization or have a title at a charitable organization, you can lead. Understand the organization’s values, its mission, its projects, and direct your efforts to advance them and bring others with you in the process.

Bring others with you. In your pursuit of making a difference, bring others with you on the journey. Don’t settle with impacting others. Help build up others so that they too can impact others. The concept of paying it forward is that each person who benefits in turn around and benefits others. As you help out in your firm, at your bar association and in your community, identify others who have the same desire, partner with them, and help them affect the lives of others for the better. You can do a lot. You and others can do so much more.

Don’t expect anything in return. Go out of your way to help others. If someone asks for help, give it. When someone seems to need help, offer it. And when no one needs or asks for it? Offer it anyway. And never, never do any of it with any expectation to get anything in return. You’re not doing these things for the payback. The payback is in the doing. Motive is everything and it is better to do less for the right reasons than more for the wrong ones.

When it comes to being a lawyer, a good one that makes a difference, you it owe to yourself to do more than produce good work product. You owe it to yourself to look beyond yourself and your needs to those around you - at work, at other attorneys and at your community. Find out what those needs are and start working on meeting them. It’s only when you start affecting the lives of others for the better that you can aspire to become a great lawyer.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mistakes Associates Make And How To Avoid Them

"If I only knew then what I know now," is a common refrain by senior associates and junior partners alike. When attorneys start out, we do not have the experience nor have we developed the instinct to know what the potential land mines are, much less to know how to avoid them. I certainly did not. Because of my naivete and inexperience, I ignored doing some things that today are second nature. For attorneys starting out, try to avoid the following:

Not speaking with the client. Nothing upsets a client more than being ignored. He wants to know what is going on with his case and wants a role in the big decisions, and sometimes the small ones. If you want to upset a client, don’t call, write or e-mail. Just let him get bills month after month without knowing what you’re doing or what you’re charging him for. To develop good client relations, seek your client’s input before making any big decisions, sometimes even before making small ones. Find out what documents the client wants to receive during the course of litigation, how often he wants to hear from you, what he wants to be bothered with and what he would be happy with you simply handling on your own. Once you know what he wants, give it to him. He’ll appreciate you for it.

Not speaking with the partner before speaking with the client. Before you speak with the client though, especially about such things as case strategy, such as deciding which experts to hire, what depositions to take or what the law says about his case, speak with the partner on the file first. You want to be on the same page with the partner on the file, make sure you both see the case the same way and have the same game plan in mind. Nothing undermines a client’s confidence to hear two different, and possibly contradictory game plans from the same firm. And the partner, who likely has worked with the client longer and who likely has handled similar cases, probably already has a case strategy in mind or has strong opinions about just about anything you plan on speaking with the client about. Go to the partner first, discuss with her her views, and then speak with the client after everyone has decided on a plan and how to execute it.

Not getting client approval. Before spending the client’s money, get the client’s approval. Need an expert? Get the client’s approval? Want to depose a witness? Get the client’s approval? Want to videotape that deposition? Get the client’s approval. A client should never be surprised by your bill.

Sugar coating. Clients like good news. The thing with good news is that it is often in scarce supply in litigation. Do not tell clients things are going well when they are not. Do not tell them they have a strong case when they don’t. And when evaluating a case, when asked what the case is worth, give them an honest evaluation. If you’re going to err, err on the pessimistic, not optimistic side. When putting a dollar value on a case, do the research. See what juries have awarded in similar cases. If the client complains, says you’re overblowing it’s exposure, you have the verdicts to support your view. It’s always better to be in the position where you settled the case for less than what you thought it was worth than paying more than what you valued it at.

Shoot from the hip. When the client calls for advice or with a question, it is tempting to tell him whatever comes to mind. Don’t do it. Stop, take a breath, and let him know that you will look into or research the issue he raised and that you’ll get back to him as soon as possible. Then talk to the partner on the file, get his thoughts, hit the library, look at the file, be prepared for other questions that may be asked related to that topic area, and then, and only then, call the client back and have an intelligent discussion about whatever he asked about.

Not thinking things through the end of trial. It’s tempting to look at a research assignment, a deposition or a hearing as simply that, and not look beyond it as to how it affects the entire case. Get in the habit of seeing the big picture in your cases, analyze where the cases are going and how to get there. Once you develop that view, then everything you do in your cases will be more meaningful and should contribute to achieving that larger goal.

Turning in drafts. It’s tempting to turn in rough drafts to other attorneys in the office. They’re not the client and because they’re more experienced, they can put the finishing touches on your memo, letter or motion. The problem with that is that the lawyers in your office start seeing your work product as substandard. No matter what a lawyer says, no matter how quickly he wants something and no matter how often he says that a draft, no matter how rough, is fine, don’t give him anything but your best work. Treat the lawyers in your office like your client. Don’t give anything you wouldn’t give the client, which means it has to be perfect. I always review my drafts three times. It seems a bit time consuming, but it always guarantees a strong, clear and concise work product.

Sacrificing quality for quantity. As defense attorneys, we are under constant pressure to bill to meet our annual billable hourly requirements. In addition to billing so many hours each year, we know that some of those hours will get cut because clients will not pay for what they perceive as too much time spent researching, drafting or revising. Now the problem is clients want perfect work product but often don’t want to pay for the time it takes to make it perfect. That often translates into associates who produce great work having some of their time written off, which translates into longer hours to make those billable hour requirements. It is tempting to cut some corners so as to produce the same product in less time and reduce the risk of having your time cut. The problem with that, is that you can’t cut corners and expect the quality to remain at the same level. And at the end of the day, you want to base your reputation on the quality of your work, not on the fact that you meet, or even exceed your hours but that your work product is average.

Shying away from the hard assignments. It is tempting to avoid the tough assignments. They are tough for a reason. They take long, there are not always clear answers and things can go wrong, sometimes very wrong. But if you want to succeed, you need to tackle the tough challenges. Because they’re tough, it’s more likely you want be as successful at handling them as you would your run of the mill cases. But if you want to grow as a lawyer and earn your stripes, you need to handle them.

Avoiding social engagements. With all the hours to bill, who has time to attend bar meetings, get involved in local organizations or attend cocktail parties with judges? You do if you want to start developing the relationships that will be off in the long term. It’s easy to get caught up in billing the hours and forget about everything else. However, it is the everything else that will pave the way for developing clients and becoming partner.

Ignoring mistakes. If a mistake happens, it’s human nature to ignore it, to hope it goes away. The problem is that if you ignore it, there’s a good chance it will become bigger and that wart you ignored today may become tomorrow’s tumor. When you made a mistake, acknowledge it, talk to the partner about it and figure out how best to handle it. Problems have a way of growing when they are not dealt with.

Not appreciating that you are providing a service. Many young lawyers think of themselves as simply lawyers. Lawyers of all ages often forget that we are providing a service, just as a doctor, or a sales representative of a waiter does. Think of the last time you were served in a restaurant. What made you like a waiter and made you want to give him a bigger tip? What about that other waiter that you didn’t like? As lawyers, we are not all that different. Think about what service you receive from various sectors and what you like about that service and what you dislike. You probably like prompt, friendly service. You need to keep in mind that you are providing a service and that you need to do everything you can to make the experience a pleasant one. Otherwise, just as you might decide not to return to a restaurant because you had a bad experience with a waiter, a client may decide not to return to your law firm because he had a bad experience with you.

Not getting involved.
Another mistake young lawyers make is not getting involved - not getting involved in bar associations, not participating in presentations to trade groups or not writing articles. Again, the strain and demands of the billable hour makes such pursuits difficult. However, you have to find the time to pursue those interests. Those are the interests that will help you develop the relationships that you need to prosper as a lawyer.