Monthly Archives: December 2010

A New Year’s goal for “Law after the bar”: I’m posting every work day in 2011

I’m posting every work day in 2011!

I’ve decided I want to blog more. There’s nothing like a schedule and a deadline to produce discipline and increase practice, and once a day feels about what I need. Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now.  I will be posting on this blog once a work day for all of 2011.

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.

Yours,

Daniel

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How to use reason and not kill a conversation

How often have you been in conversation when someone makes an argument and provides absolutely no evidence or rationale for it? They take the argument as so self-evident that there really is nothing you can do to add to the conversation. No evidence has been provided, the facts–such as they are–have been disregarded, dismissed, ignored, or blithely made up, and the individual–who may  one of any number political commentators on Fox, MSNBC, and any number of newspapers, blogs, and television or radio stations across the country, or even worse, have obtained said opinion from such prognosticators–waits for you to respond with their argument as a basis for your conversation. Never mind whether you agree or not, that’s your starting point: a fallacy, a talking point, a place that just is.

It’s a conversation killer. You find yourself with just a few options (though this list is not comprehensive), none of which are necessarily attractive. You can

  1. Smile and nod. This requires that you lie. You must put on a face, appearing to agree, but really, you’re just lying.
  2. Ask for more information. “Why do you think that?” This is falls into the category of the WWJD, because it is civil, it’s polite, it allows the person to think through and give a response, and it’s what my Dear Old Mom (hereinafter “DOM”) would tell me to do, back when she still told me what to do. It requires a certain amount of self discipline not always quick to be found, though…
  3. Disagree. “No, you’re wrong.” And guess what? You don’t necessarily need to say why. Because you’re going to provoke a reaction by the flat disagreement. Quad gratis asseritur gratis negatur, you see. What is asserted without reason may be denied without reason.
But is that really the world we want to live in? And is that world really any fun? Sure, it makes for great talking points on Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow, but it does little to solve problems and move the dialalogue forward, to say nothing for continue the conversation.

It may also be the real reason that our country, at least politically, has become
so polarized. The days when Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan could talk as political opponents but also as fellow public servants were possible because they were willing to use reason, listen to reason, and respond with reason…and sometimes, they could even find common ground upon which they could agree to work together.

Ronald Reagan with Tip O'Neill

Use reason. And listen, also with reason. As an attorney, I feel like there are few industries that could benefit more from the increased civil dialogue.
Perhaps DOM wasn’t too far off in her expectations, after all.

Law Practice Tip #4: read “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law”

Whether you’re a newly minted lawyer or a third year associate, a solo practitioner or one of hundreds in a national firm, you should regularly  review of the basics of practicing law. Research, writing, presentation, argument, and knowledge of the law are just tools of our trade, and keeping them sharp is as important to our practice as  it is for any carpenter sharpening chisels, saws, and blades.

This month I am reading the short and handy “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law” by Mark Herrmann. With quick, practical, and to the point tips on everything from how to write a clear and concise brief to the etiquette of voice messages, it has proven, so far, to be both a delightful and refreshing reminder of the basics of legal practice, not to mention a good laugh.

Some examples:

  • The Ten Most Common Mistaken Assumptions Made by New Lawyers (including #10: “So long as it’s clearly marked “DRAFT,” no one will care if it’s incomprehensible.”)
  • What They Didn’t Teach You in Law School (I found this particularly interesting, and I might someday add some bits of it here)
  • The Curmudgeon’s Law Dictionary (including this definition of Business Development: “Playing golf with old college buddies. As in: ‘Of course I charged the firm for my business development trip to Scotland.'” Or this one for Will Contest: “A judicial procedure in which disappointed legatees attempt to prove that their beloved testator was drunk, incompetent, or unduly influenced at the time the estate plan was made.”)
  • The Curmudgeon on Clients, wherein the Curmudgeon reminds us that we are not in the legal industry, but the service industry, and it is our job to make clients’ lives easier.
  • And so on…
Pick it up. Published by the ABA or available online at Amazon, it’s worth your read, both for the chuckles and the real, and very practical, advice for success as a lawyer.

Surprised by quality–and ravioli and curry–at Cafe Med

We were running late. The movie started in just about an hour. And we were indecisive, to boot.

“Let’s drive through Sugar House; maybe something will pop up.”

“That’s too far from the theater. By the time we get our food, we’ll miss the movie.”

“What about Pei Wei? That’s pretty fast.”

“Hmmm…I’m not in the mood for Chinese. How about Cafe Rio?”

“Wrong direction. And we eat there every time we go out.”

“That’s because I like it.”

“True. There’s an Apollo Burger near the theater..though I don’t really want a burger…but it is closer.”

“I don’t want that, either.”

Silence. By default, I steered us towards the theater. I guess popcorn slathered in genuine artificial imitation butter and washed down by a diet soda (also loaded with genuine artificial imitation flavors) would be the meal du jour.

“What about that place,” she said. “Cafe Med?”

We were passing at 35 MPH, but I flipped a turn, anyway. We found ourselves in a potholed parking lot full of cars. We could see in the windows  as we cruised for a parking spot, and the restaurant was full.

“I don’t know. Looks full.”

“I heard it was good. Let’s try it.” Why not? Why not? Did I mention that she is pregnant? And that right now her tastes are  a little more…unpredictable? Yeah.

The restaurant was full, but we waited anxiously as the show time approached, glancing through menus. We did not wait long, though. We were seated in the middle of the room, a cozy affair, just a foot or two from other guests and tables. To say the least, it was cozy.

Our waiter appeared, a bit discombobulated, and apologized for the wait, promising to bring us a bowl of hummus to compensate. The menu was mediterranean, and he offered several recommendations. I had a ravioli with some kind of mushrooms and a cheese sauce that just dripped with deliciousness. My wife ordered a curry noodle dish that was perfect, for me, but a bit on the spicy side of things for her. She enjoyed it enough, however, for a meal, and I finished it off at home.

And, lest I forget, the humus and pitas that the waiter brought us was warm and appetizing. It would have made a satisfying meal by itself.

My only criticism of Cafe Med was that the staff seemed less organized or understaffed, which I am not clear. There were clearly a lot of bodies, but our waiter seemed to cover most of the dining room. As a result, we waited longer than we expected for him to bring back our check, a wait that seemed prolonged by the movie we were hurrying to make. Other than that, the service was great, the food delicious, and the experience enjoyable. We’ll be back again, soon. With friends, to boot.

And we made it to the movie on time, too.

See other restaurant reviews here and here.

Cafe Med on Urbanspoon

Law Practice Tip #3: Declining Representation

If you’re like me, you occasionally get calls from family or friends about legal issues, and not because they want to hire you. Additionally, because you’re a lawyer, you get those occasional legal questions while out and about socially. People making conversation. Or so you think.

Until suddenly you get a notice from the court indicating that someone was claiming you as their lawyer.

While attorney-client relationships are not supposed to happen unless there is a mutual understanding between the attorney and the individual, it’s a pitfall that happens. Avoiding the inadvertent relationship means a little extra care by the attorney, but it’s not too difficult to do. In an article for the ABA,  Evan L. Loeffler provides a few great tips on keeping everything above board and avoiding those tricky situations.

  • Don’t give legal advice outside of your field of expertise.
  • Don’t give legal advice on a situation pending in a jurisdiction where you are not licensed to practice.
  • If you determine the other party already has a lawyer, resist the urge to second guess.
  • Make it clear the person may have a legal problem that he or she should consult with a lawyer about (good for those cocktail party questions). “If that lawyer is you, offer to schedule an appointment in your office and discuss what you will charge.”
  • Encourage the questioner to seek formal advice quickly, especially if there is a statute of limitations affecting a possible claim.
  • Always follow up in writing.
  • Remember that whatever the client told you is presumed to be in strictest confidence.

Check the whole article, published in July/August 2010 issue, here at the ABA. The article also has a sample letter for declining representation, a copy of which should be kept on file each time it is sent out.