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.