A clean desk: Is that what we aspire to? Really?

No, this desk is NOT the winner of a prize for revealing workspaces.

And the winner is …

Wait wait wait! Taking a tip from the Academy Awards, I have to stretch this out for a bit.

Back in January, I offered a prize—a book of legal poetry—to a reader who shared a photo of their desk, messy or not. A description was invited but not required.

You may recall that my desk-psychosis grew deep as my own workspace got lost under piles. And I started to wonder what a clean or dirty desk says about each of us. Like my paper piles, that musing got pretty deep; read it here.)

I am happy to report that my messiness concerns resonated with readers. I heard from a number of folks who reported the state of their workspaces’ messiness levels.

As promised, I randomly selected a winner, and she is … K Royal. Congratulations, K!

K Royal's desk photo won her a book of poetry (though storage bins might have been a better prize!).

K Royal’s desk photo won her a book of poetry (though storage bins might have been a better prize!).

And here is K’s description of her space:

“Your note about a messy desk made me laugh out loud, so although not noteworthy, here is mine. Yes … double monitors, family photos … including my dog, shoe tape dispenser, diamond post it note holder, Dutch slippers, m&m coffee mug, and although you may not be able to see them … shoe phone holders for two cell phones and a Hedwig mug to hold pens.”

She ends with a cheery but noncommittal “May your organization remain exactly what you need it to be!”

By coincidence (yes, it’s a coincidence), I’ve known K from when she was at ASU Law School. She’s gone on to other things (including a stint in Texas), and she’s now Privacy Counsel at Align Technology in San Jose, California.

Privacy Counsel? Hmm, am I allowed to mention that?

In any case, I hope K enjoys “Poetic Justice” as much as I did.

K, send me a note at arizona.attorney@azbar.org with your snail-mail address and I’ll get this posted tout de suite.

K Royal's desk photo won her this book of poetry!

K Royal’s desk photo won her this book of poetry!

Do you have an opinion on a possible dues increase by the State Bar of Arizona?

I will pause here, as I am sure you’re laughing at my simple-minded question.

pause buttonMy point is that everyone seems to have an opinion on the possibility of an increase, which would be the first since 2005.

If you’re curious to hear contrary views on the topic staked out, this Wednesday afternoon will be a good opportunity.

Maricopa County Bar Association MCBA logoAt 5:00 pm, Wednesday, Feb. 19, the Maricopa County Bar Association is hosting what it calls an “informational session” (let’s hope that means more light than heat). It is free, but they would prefer that you RSVP here.

I spoke with Allen Kimbrough, the MCBA Executive Director, and I’m happy to report that Arizona Attorney content will be part of the dialogue. Attendees will receive copies of our February issue FAQs, as well as our published pro and con.

The Wednesday event will feature two speakers who were our same authors—State Bar President Whitney Cunningham on the pro side, and Bar Governor Sam Saks taking up the con gauntlet.

I look forward to seeing you there. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with me about a possible increase; I may include them in an upcoming blog post.

possible dues increase calculator

Our April 2002 cover of Arizona Attorney Magazine explored lawyers as that most western of American heroes. Is it time to heroicize practice areas?

Our April 2002 cover explored lawyers as that most western of American heroes. Is it time to heroicize practice areas?

Get ready, you estate planning attorneys: Your 15 minutes may be starting soon. And yes, that would be a shift.

Years ago, when I worked at large law firms in Chicago, the cowboys were the trial lawyers, along with the M&A attorneys (yes, it was the ‘80s, and M&A stirred the blood). Their work was on display everywhere you looked, either in the hallway whoops as verdicts came in or deals were sealed, or in the daily newspapers, which cheerily carried the exploits of each.

Meanwhile, to continue the western analogue, the ranchers and farmers were the considerably more reserved practice areas. Among them were the wills and estates lawyers. Their well-crafted work product was never on display, but was kept in a well-ventilated secured area, exhumed only upon the occasion of a client’s death.

The bloom may be off the M&A rose, but I’d wager the overall comparison may continue today. But a recent NPR story suggests a way that estates folks may emerge from the trustworthy world of trusts. It may be crazysexycool time for them.

The story examines the Danish TV series called The Legacy. The tale of an extended family and its exploits features the risks of leaving unclear your life’s desire for the distribution of assets.

Denmark series The Legacy Arvingerne wills

Denmark, known for butter cookies, beer and Legos, can now add estate planning to its admirable traits.

Of course, soap operas for millennia have mined the rich veins of greed and betrayal. But so well done is the series, we are told, that it has become a boon for family lawyers who do wills.

Here is the NPR transcript and audio. (I urge radio folks to dispense with that annoying phrase “Take a listen,” which has led me to change stations more than once.)

For more on the series, head over to IMDB.

Now, I am willing to bet that you’re thinking, What works in Denmark may not work here in the United States (except for Legos, beer and Bang & Olufsen speakers). But (bear with me now): What if someone took this knowledge and turned it toward the benefit of other underserved practice areas?

Why couldn’t a talented someone (What? Me? No! Really?!) channel those talents into a series of films that exposed the beating heart that lies beneath legal niches?

Aviation attorneys winging their way to viewers’ souls. Construction-defect lawyers offering solid heroism on foundations’ shifting sands. Tax lawyers adding to your pleasure while finding deductions that bolster your bottom line. Bond lawyers (OK, I’m reaching here) who offer a steely gaze as they introduce themselves: “Bond. Municipal Bond.”

Sure, details must be worked out, financing arranged. But pretty soon I’ll have worked up a few treatments and be ready to take a meeting or three. All in service to lawyers, soon to be immortalized on-screen.

Which practice areas should be our chapter one? Let me know; there may be a producer credit in it for you.

ASU hosts American Moot Court Tournament

Are you ready to pick up the gavel and give back to legal education at the same time? Does ASU Law School have a deal for you!

On January 17 and 18, the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law will host the American Collegiate Moot Court Association’s national championship tournament. This is quite an impressive honor, and it will see undergraduates from all over the country traveling to Arizona to compete by mooting an issue in our Supreme Court.

That’s where you may come in. The law school is in need of JDs who are willing to volunteer as judges (I’ve been told they need about 250 total).

Hesitant? Well, the school is willing to sweeten the pot for those on the fence: If you sign up with a lawyer–friend, the organizers will aim to pair you together as a judging team.

Whaaat? A judging team? I don’t know about you, but nothing binds a friendship more than judging others. Come on out!

More detail is below. And to volunteer as a judge, sign up here.

ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law logo“The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is proud to host the American Collegiate Moot Court Association’s national championship tournament on January 17-18, 2014. 80 undergraduate teams from across the country will come to the law school to compete in this prestigious tournament to determine this year’s national champion.  The College of Law is excited to be this year’s competition host, and we hope that you will join us in making this a memorable experience for competitors.  Volunteer judging is a great way to contribute to the education and training of future legal professionals as well as showcase the strength and involvement of our local bar.”

The College of Law is looking for attorneys to volunteer as judges for the following times:

Friday, January 17:

  • 4:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
  • 5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

Saturday, January 18:

  • 8:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
  • 9:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
  • 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.

Bring a buddy—sign up to judge with a friend and we will pair you to judge oral arguments together.

If you would like to volunteer but the above scheduled time blocks do not match your availability, please contact Adam Almaraz at aalmaraz@asu.edu.

To volunteer as a judge, click here.

Merry Christmas holiday from your lawyer

Mrs. Claus, take a letter …

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Aiming to keep the holiday season clear of unwelcome clutter, I am keeping today’s post almost purely visual.

Up above is a pretty funny holiday greeting, as redlined by your attorney.

And, in keeping with the overlawyered New Year’s theme, here is a cartoon that garnered many chuckles last year, so I’ve dusted it off for 2013.

Happy New Year cartoonHave a great—and unlawerly—holiday weekend.

Oregon State Bar Bulletin rural practice spread

Does rural law practice beckon? Two different bar association magazines say yes.

This week I am in Portland, Oregon, for the first time. Quite an amazing place.

I am learning and presenting at a conference of communications folks. (Here’s what I’m doing.) And I’m working hard to get out of the hotel occasionally to enjoy a terrific city. Well, whatever I do, I’ll put a bird on it. (More on that tomorrow.)

As I like to do, I point you today toward some law content connected to the place I’m visiting. And up here in the state whose motto is “She Flies With Her Own Wings” (explanations welcome), I recommend to you some work of the Oregon State Bar Association—specifically an two articles in their current Bar Bulletin.

In an article by writer Melody Finnemore, we get to hear from lawyers who are in the courtroom—as jurors. The picture they paint is not always a good one.

That ranks up there with other great story ideas I should emulate for Arizona Attorney Magazine.

You can read the complete version here. Here is the opening of the insightful article:

“Channing Bennett has seen his share of time in the courtroom, first as a litigator representing clients in civil cases and later as a volunteer judge pro tem in Marion County Circuit Court. The Salem attorney is a hearings referee for the Oregon Judicial Department. Now, he knows firsthand the emotional anguish many of his clients have experienced during a trial.”

Oregon State Bar logo“‘I’ve gained a lot of empathy for my clients going through the trial process. You feel very helpless and you get frustrated with the courts, even as an experienced observer,’ he says.”

“Bennett is one of the scores of Oregon attorneys who have been plaintiffs in a case, had to hire an attorney, been the victim of a crime or witnessed a crime, or participated in the Oregon State Bar disciplinary system. Some have experienced the state’s legal system from multiple perspectives — all from a very different place than where they are used to sitting during the legal process.”

“Like Bennett, most of the attorneys who shared their stories with the Bulletin didn’t exactly enjoy a positive experience. Yet they overwhelmingly said they learned something from it, ranging from greater empathy for clients to a broader understanding of what it means to be a good lawyer.”

Just as intriguing is their current cover story for the August/September issue. Written by Cliff Collins, it is titled “Opportunity Knocks in Rural Oregon: Small Towns Beckon Job-Seeking Lawyers.”

That was well written, but it also hit home because it reminded me immediately of an essay that resides in a recent issue of Arizona Attorney. Penned by lawyer Laura Cardinal, it makes a similar point about the good and successful life attorneys may find outside the big cities. And while you do that, the authors argue, you’ll be helping many people.

You can find Laura’s article here. Let me know what you think of both pieces.

Laura Cardinal writes on rural law practice, Arizona Attorney Magazine

Punctuation Day 2013Today, as I and all time-wasters know, is National Punctuation Day. Hail, caesura.

I don’t often cover punctuation here (though I praised the hyphen here). But I was pleased to see that the oh-so-valuable punctuation is connected to lawyers.

Yes, lawyers. For as Wikipedia explains to us, the development of punctuation use—primarily its dearth in places—was affected by law practice:

“One aspect of archaic legal drafting—particularly in conveyances and deeds—is the conspicuous absence of punctuation. This arose from a widespread idea among lawyers that punctuation was ambiguous and unimportant, and that the meaning of legal documents was contained only in the words used and their context. In modern legal drafting, punctuation is used, and helps to clarify their meaning.”

Read more here. And the next time you get annoyed at a surplus of unnecessary punctuation, thank an Old English lawyer (we all know one or two.)

Punctuation Day meatloaf question mark

“I have a question,” the meatloaf appears to say.

If you’re the type who wants to really dig into your punctuation, here is a webinar in honor of the big event. It is hosted by the Poynter Institute, which puts on marvelous educational webinars for journalists—and others! The webinar is at 2:00 Eastern time today—which means it’s 11 a.m. here in Arizona—still time to register for this $9.95 class (pretty inexpensive, eh?).

And if you were hankering to celebrate National Punctuation Day (or NPD, as aficionados call it), here’s how.

Finally, here is an entry that bridges that gap we’ve always wanted to see closed—between punctuation and food. (Hmmm?) Yes, it’s true; you too can have a recipe for a Punctuation Meatloaf.

I don’t want to be a nudge, but I’m not sure I want the word semi-colon—or colon at all—in a sentence discussing meatloaf. But as long as we’re enjoying this, wouldn’t a colon simply be two hamburger patties?

Get cooking.

Breaking Bad actor Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman

If even Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman (played by actor Bob Odenkirk) said no to a client’s case, take a pass.

A benefit of reading and writing all the time is that you pretty regularly come across content that’s terrific and that you wouldn’t ever have imagineered yourself. Today, I’m pleased to pass on a comical and insightful piece that deconstructs the words of a potential client’s previous lawyer. Well done!

If you’ve ever listened in disbelief as a potential client explains what a previous attorney said, this post is bound to resonate with you.

Let me know what you think. Here is the Unwashed Advocate (whose hilarious “About” page is here), who opens:

“I often get calls from potential clients who’ve previously contacted other lawyers. Invariably, the following is said during these conversations. … I’d like to help … by translating what the other lawyer said. Here goes.”

Prepare to chuckle in recognition as he “translates the lawyerese.”

Keep reading here.

Psst. If you think privacy law is a growing practice area for attorneys, you're one of the few.

Psst. If you think privacy law is a growing practice area for attorneys, you’re one of the few.

Magazine folks and legal commentators all try to assess (OK, “guess”) where the legal profession is headed. And one of the important elements in that horse-race is determining what practice areas are growing—and which are shrinking.

Last week, legal staffing firm Robert Half International issued another of its studies of lawyer perception. This one reported on attorney responses to questions about areas that will have the most revenue opportunities in the future.

I was not surprised (nor was anyone) that “Litigation” and “General business commercial law” held onto the top two berths (59% and 31% of respondents, respectively, view those as growth areas). That fact may be true, but it doesn’t illuminate much about law practice. Even otherwise-educated lawyers, who know that those broad terms encompass a wide variety of practice areas, routinely select those umbrellas when surveyed.

So we’ve been taught to look instead at what came in at Numbers 3, 4 and so on.

Health care law is seen by a pretty resounding 14% of lawyer respondents to be a growth opportunity. Now that’s interesting. After that, bankruptcy/foreclosure (8%) and labor & employment (7%) follow.

Surprising to me is that “privacy, data security and information law” languishes at just 4%. Really? We are inundated with a barrage of news that reveals how significant those areas are in every area of modern life. I think that attorneys who can marshal the experience and knowledge to guide that conversation have to be making a winning gamble. Apparently, though, only few lawyers want to roll the dice.

Read more about the survey results here.

And what do you think the growth areas are? And once you identify them, are you able to mobilize to develop new lines of work?

Infographic_Robert Half growing practice areas

Picture this.

No, I mean it: Picture this blog, not filled with streams of annoying words, but instead illustrating its main points in visual ways.

If you think you’re down with that, then we’re on the same page.

Understand, I’m all about the words. But I’ve been hankering for the past year for more pics and fewer verbal tics. And I have found infographics a terrific tool (maybe I just need a new reading prescription). And in Arizona Attorney Magazine, I’m trying to see where we can use infographics to good effect.

What is an infographic? You may have viewed them and not been familiar with the label. Here’s an example from the highly accomplished Bar Association of San Francisco:

Bar Association of San Francisco infographic

Cool, right?

And here is another shared by Association Media & Publishing:

infographic AMP Association Media and Publishing

Recently, I’ve engaged in a dialogue with a great member of the magazine’s Editorial Board. She too is intrigued by the possible legal uses of infographics. Because she’s efficient, though, she didn’t just muse on it. Instead, Ashley Kasarjian created one, and she’s on her way to creating others.

You may know Ashley as the author of the nationally recognized Employment and the Law Blog. And in her day job (oh, that), she’s an attorney at Snell & Wilmer.

Now, because we blog writers love us a little web-traffic, I’m not going to reprint Ashley’s whole infographic here. For that, you have to travel over here and give her a little SEO love. But here is a snippet of what she’s up to:

Ashley Kasarjian infographic

A portion of an infographic by Ashley Kasarjian

As you can surmise, she’s cooked up a Venn diagram of sorts (and who doesn’t love a Venn diagram?). So surf over to see the whole thing.

I happen to know that Ashley’s subsequent efforts are aimed at including even fewer words. Be still my heart!

(In fact, I will let you in on a little secret: Ashley has thrown down the gauntlet and suggested an infographic battle. I’ve accepted, naturally, but I may be in trouble, given that she’s already jumped in while I still simply ruminate. On the other hand, I’ve warned her that I am willing to include the ever-popular puppies and kittens; as a distinguished Snell attorney, she’s out of luck on that score! #winning)

But you may be unconvinced that such an accessible, concise and comprehensible tool has any place in the practice of law. Therefore, I urge you to set aside your reading of Bleak House and your admiration of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, while I share with you some reasons for you to embrace the brave new visual world.

So: Here are 5 reasons I learned to stop worrying and love the infographic:

1. Clients may love them, and they make your content more valuable to them.

Your background and experience likely mean that you have valuable content to share. And if you have a website (you do have a website, don’t you?), it may be brimming with content out the wazoo. But let’s be real; your mom may be reading it, but other people have higher standards. Why don’t you take some suggestions to make that content sing?

2. Your partners insist on depth, but they don’t read to the end of your memos either.

I am aware of the requirements of law practice; that 17-page brief on whether gravel should be regulated as a building material or a mineral had to be written. But your audience (even your partners) are yearning for the executive summary. What if that brief one-pager were fronted by an infographic setting out the rocky principles? Sure, you might get fired. But you’re a trailblazer.

Read here why simple = powerful, and why “Psychological research on cognitive fluency shows why easy to understand = more profitable, more pleasurable, more intelligent and safer.”

3. We’re all (even attorneys) visual thinkers.

That’s right, even you, with your Juris Doctorate, are likely a visual thinker. There may be some folks who think almost entirely in words, but scientists say they comprise only 25 percent of the population. (Cue the jokes to determine what practice area they’re in.) Want more evidence? (Of course you do, counselor.) Read this great essay about the power of visual thinking.

Or do you want that idea in a picture? (Yes? Now you’re getting the hang of it!). Here:

visual thinking a la postypography

Think about it: Which is mightier than which? (image by postypography)

4. Flowcharts work, especially when your mind doesn’t.

Do you remember law school? That was the place with all the words. Volumes of them. It was the place where the way to determine proper jurisdiction was to read 75 cases about wheat or chaff or something.

Do you remember your bar exam prep course? That was the place with pictures—or at least flowcharts. It was the place where the way to determine proper jurisdiction was to complete and then study a two-page chart that walked you through every possible permutation. Two pages, not volumes.

Close your eyes, and you may still remember those two pages. Close your eyes and think about the law school volumes. ZZZZZZZZZ.

But despite the evidence and our own experience, lawyers eschew images in favor of words. We know that Barbri (or whoever) saved our ass, but after that exam, we cozied up to words all over again.

Here’s an article that describes how valuable flowcharts can be. Read it, and then make one today.

5. Lawyers are creative, and many yearn to release a little art.

In case you missed it, I point you to a story we ran in Arizona Attorney recently. It’s about lawyers who were bit early by the art bug.

Read it and I bet you see a little of yourself there. You may not be a painter or author or sculptor. But infographics? It may be your milieu.

Want to get started? Here is a great collection of law-related infographics; they tend to be connected to personal injury practice, but let’s broaden our horizon to imag(in)e our own possibilities.

I’ll see you in the images.

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