Friday, February 22, 2008

Write Your Eulogy

Black. There is so much black. Suits and dresses and slacks and shoes. And then there are the tears, intermingled with a laugh here and there. And in the middle of it all is the coffin, the reason why everyone is there, in black and in tears. And inside that coffin is you. Your practice is over, your career is over and most importantly, your life is over. And as you lay there, the room grows quiet as someone approaches the podium to say a few words. This is your eulogy - your life encapsulated in a few minutes - and everything you’ve done, the life you have led and the values you have held are about to be laid bare to those whose lives were influenced by your words and by your acts.

What will this person say about you? Will he speak in generalities? Will he say what he is suppose to say and will everybody nod their heads like they are suppose to nod? Or will the speaker actually be moved by your life, by your legacy and will those sitting in the folding chairs forget for a few minutes about how hard their seats are and reflect on how their lives are different - how their lives are better - because of you?

If you want to leave a legacy, if you want your life to mean something to others, to mean something after your gone, start with your eulogy. Sit down and write it out. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want those who remain behind to say about you? What are the nouns, and the verbs and the adjectives you want used to describe you? Write it down. Every last word - the anecdotes from your life, the nuggets of wisdom you shared, the acts of kindness you did - in black and white, right in front of you.

There. All your accomplishments, dreams and hopes fulfilled - reduced to a few pages. Now here comes the hard part. How close are you to fulfilling your legacy? How much of that eulogy is accurate and how much of it remains unfulfilled hopes and dreams? By writing your eulogy, you can see where you want to be and how far it is from here to there. You can reflect on what truly matters - the things you will do and the values you will live by that will cause you to have an impact well beyond your own lifetime.

You will realize, as I, that so much of what we do and so much of what consumes our thoughts is rather petty, small and insignificant. By reflecting on the life you should have lived, now instead on your deathbed, you can make the changes while there is still time. You can make the changes to leave the legacy you want, and make your funeral, whether decades or just years from now, a celebration of a life well lived. Now go and plan out how you’re going to make them dance in the aisles.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Working With Your Assistant

Your most important ally at your firm is your legal assistant. She does the things that make you look good and frees up time to tackle bigger, more important tasks. If you want to succeed at your firm, foster a respectful, caring relationship with your secretary and with the rest of the staff. How do you do that? Consider the following:

Be considerate. Your secretary is first and foremost a person. She wants and deserves to be treated with respect, consideration and appreciation. Think about your superiors in your firm. Do any of them treat you poorly? Treat you as fungible? How do they make you feel? How willing are you to go the extra mile for them? When it comes to staff, follow the golden rule - treat them the way you would want them to treat you.

Curb emergencies. How often do you find yourself asking your secretary to stay late because of an “emergency?” How often is it truly an emergency and how often is it poor planning on your part? Whenever you work on a project which will require your secretary’s help, get her involved early in the process so that she can do her job well before five.

Get involved. We all have interests outside of work. Many of us are involved in charities or organizations that we care deeply about. If your secretary has such an interest or involvement, see how you can help. Maybe you can help her with a food drive for a local shelter or lend a hand revitalizing the local youth center. Her appreciation will show up in her work.

Respect personal time. During the eight hours your secretary is at work, spouses will call, family emergencies will arise and issues from the home front will have to be dealt with. Give your secretary the time and space to deal with them. Attempts to stamp out these interruptions in the work day will only serve to alienate your secretary and ironically, make her less, not more, productive.

Be clear and precise. When asking your secretary for help, give clear and precise direction to ensure that you and her are on the same page regarding assignments. Consider taking the extra couple of minutes to write a detailed e-mail about what you want accomplished. The extra time you spend at the beginning of an assignment will be recouped when you get back exactly what you asked for.

The key to working well with yours secretary and your staff is taking the time to put them first so that they can follow your lead and put you and your cases first. To be served, you must first learn to serve.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Staying on Top of Your Cases

Handling 30, 40 or more cases is not unusual for a litigator. How do you stay on top of all them? How do you make sure you meet all the deadlines, prevent things from falling through the cracks and push your cases toward a successful resolution? Consider the following tips.

The most important fifteen minutes of the day. After pouring your morning joe and settling into your office, you are about to embark upon the most important fifteen minutes of the day.

Whether you squander them or not is entirely up to you.
In the next fifteen minutes, you can either jump into the day’s work without a thought of how you want the day to unfold or you can develop a plan for the day (as well as the days and weeks to come). Take fifteen minutes to do the following:

Review your calender. See what is on your calender for the day, the week and the month ahead. Think about what needs to be done that day and what needs to be started upon to meet deadlines that are days or weeks away. Planning your day based solely on what is on the immediate horizon is a recipe for having a career driven by emergencies.

Keep a case list.
Keep a list of all your cases, adding new ones as they come across your desk and removing ones as you close them out. First thing every morning, review the list to evaluate what phone calls you need to make, what e-mails you need to send and whatever else you need to do.

Keep a to do list. Keep a running list of assignments on a Word or Word Perfect document which you add to as you receive new assignment and shorten as you complete assignments. After you look at your calender and case list, look at your to do list, and see what else needs to be done.

Keep a short to do list close at hand. On a post it, write down the things "you must" finish today. On a second post it, write down a few more things you "would like" to get done today. Those post its will direct your activity for the day.

Keep a clean desk.
Nothing should stay on your desk except for what you are currently working on. Everything else needs to be passed onto your secretary, another attorney in the office or the file room. To the extent you have several outstanding projects, develop a filing system in your office where you keep these documents somewhere other than in piles on your desk. For example, I use a stack of trays I keep behind me on a book shelf, where I keep documents related to outstanding projects I am working on. Once I am done with one, those documents leave my office immediately.

If it takes less than five minutes, do it! Get in the habit of doing things immediately, whether returning phone calls, responding to e-mails, or answers questions or requests by clients or others at the firm. This way, you tackle the project when it is freshest in your mind and you avoid your to do list from growing and further avoid paper from accumulating on your desk.

Staying on top of your cases can be challenging. However, by developing a system that works for you and sticking to it, you can ensure to reduce surprises and emergencies to a minimum.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Preparing Your Client for Deposition

The most important deposition in a case is not the opposing party’s. it is your client’s deposition. The admissions he makes can hand a summary judgment or a favorable jury verdict to the other side. To avoid that, consider the following when preparing your client for deposition.

It takes time. Make time. Preparing your client for deposition is time-consuming. For every hour you expect his deposition to last, plan on spending three preparing him.

Prepare early. Don’t wait until the day before (or even the week before) the deposition to start preparing your client. Preparations should start before opposing counsel sends out the notice.

Prepare a document binder for your clients. The worst feeling in the world is seeing your client being asked questions at deposition about a document he has never seen before. To avoid this, procure all the relevant documents through your case investigations, requests for production and third party subpoenas, and prepare a binder of all the documents you expect your client to see at deposition. Mail him the binder, have him review them at his leisure and then go through them in detail with him in person.

Conduct a mock deposition. Just as your client should not see a document for the first time at deposition, he should not be asked a question for the first time at deposition either. Ask him every question you expect opposing counsel to ask him. Neither you nor your client should be surprised by any of the answers he gives at deposition.

Videotape the mock deposition. Consider video taping the mock deposition and viewing portions of it with your client. Discuss with him his delivery style, his body language and his answers. Seeing oneself on video can be very educational.

Tell the truth. There are all sorts of rules attorneys tell their clients to follow at the deposition. The first and foremost is to tell the truth. A witness never has to worry about “keeping his story straight” or wondering if opposing counsel is going to trip him up on one or more of his answers if he sticks to the truth.

Give your witness a deposition transcript. You can describe a deposition all you want. You can even subject your client to a mock deposition. But there’s no substitute for an actual deposition. To give your client the complete experience before subjecting him to it, consider giving him a transcript or even a DVD from another deposition.

Strike the proper balance. There is no question that your client can sink the case with the words that come out of his mouth. Of course, he can become so conscious of this, that his nerves get the best of him. Treat the client in such a way to convey the importance of his deposition without making him impotent with fear.

Your client’s case may rise or fall on the words that come out of his mouth. Make sure he knows to choose those words carefully.