November 2013


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

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

On Friday last week, I posted a story about what the messiness of our desks may signify. In that post, I talked some trash about those people who have clean desks, but I also promised to come in over the weekend to clean my own.

I’m not sure I spotted the conceptual bind into which I was about to place myself.

Sure enough, last Saturday I cleaned my desk—quite well, I’ll add—and now I am in that category of folks I had belittled. Hmm. Bad planning.

Among my promises was this one: I would post a photo of my clean desk. First, here is the original version:

My current desk view (yes, there's a desk under there.) Here's my challenge: I'll post a clean one next week.

My current desk view (yes, there’s a desk under there.) Here’s my challenge: I’ll post a clean one next week.

And here is the new and clean version:

I've achieved desk cleanliness, but at what cost?

I’ve achieved desk cleanliness, but at what cost?

(Click to enlarge both of the panoramic photos.)

OK, I’ve fulfilled my promise to clean, but I feel pretty naked doing so. I just can’t get past my prejudice that a clean desk is an oddity, a tidy cry for help. Give me a little time, and I’m sure I’ll rectify this squeaky-clean problem sooner than you’d guess.

Have a great—and occasionally messy—Thanksgiving!

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No U Turn: The tried-and-true law practice techniques are not up to 2014's challenges.

The tried-and-true law practice techniques are not up to 2014’s challenges.

Last week, I mentioned NextLaw, our effort at Arizona Attorney Magazine to explore innovations in the legal profession.

The focus of that 2014 coverage will range among different niches of law practice. To help you understand what we’re looking for, I share here my editor’s column from the December issue.

I would appreciate it greatly if you would share this (and/or reblog it) with those who might have a great and innovative story to tell about their law firm, law practice or courthouse. Here’s the column:

What’s next? is something we all wonder. Here at a law magazine, that’s how we describe our job.

You may catch me talking quite a bit about the future of law in the coming year. We’re very interested (and pretty invested) in the topic. And as we considered the way forward in a profession as complex as the law, we realized we had to break it down—way down.

That is why we will cover the topic category by category next year. After all, what is going to transform large firm practice is not the same thing that will make law school education a compelling draw once again. Sole and small practitioners have their own challenges, as do our courts.

That’s why we’re engaged in the NextLaw Project. In it, we want to help portray the best practices available in those (and perhaps other) categories.

How could you, your law office or court get involved? I’m glad you asked.

Let's try forward (image courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

Let’s try forward (image courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

It’s possible that you’re aware of a remarkable tool or strategy that has made your work more competitive. Perhaps you’re developing a killer practice area, or your small law practice is suddenly benefiting from a resource—human or otherwise—that you hadn’t anticipated. Or maybe you know about your local courthouse that has made service to all its constituents better through initiative and imagination.

So we’re interested in your stories, which we’ve broadly grouped into the following categories:

  • The Emerging Law Firm
  • The Emerging Solo Practitioner
  • The Emerging Law School
  • The Emerging Courthouse

Why do I say “emerging”? Because we all feel we’re peering out of a dark recession, not sure if the light we see is sunrise or sunset. If experience is any guide, those who deem it sunrise will have some compelling stories to tell. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Richard Posner and his cat: Is law school the way it is because of this man? (But not because of his cat, we believe.)

Richard Posner and his cat: Is law school the way it is because of this man? (But not because of his cat, we believe.)

This is a short (and therefore busy) week, so it may be unwise for me to point you toward a long article. But I suspect it will reward your time investment.

It is titled The real reason law schools are raking in cash,” and I thank the New Hampshire Bar Association for pointing me toward it.

Pressed for time? The story’s deck provides a hint of the theme: “The profession’s in crisis, but the schools don’t care. They’re steeped in a toxic, hyper-capitalist worldview.”

No, this ain’t take-to-the-ramparts class warfare, but it is a very nuanced examination of the process of changing minds that we have called “law school.” And anyone who has been through the lawyer-manufacturing process may recognize the steps that author Benjamin Winterhalter dissects.

After explaining the odd economic dynamics of today’s legal profession—student employment is down, their debt is up, and school coffers remain full—he offers his analysis about what he calls an “obvious question about the discrepancy—the gulf between the continuing financial success of American law schools and the grim financial realities of their graduates—that no one seems to be asking.”

“That question, the one that is so obvious that even thinking about it is deeply painful, is this: Why aren’t law schools ashamed of themselves? Where is their sense of pity, of remorse, of human decency? After all, aren’t the very ideals that law schools purport to teach about—justice, fairness, equality—fundamentally and exactly opposed to this sort of naked capitalist exploitation? In the standard liberal vision of a functioning democracy, isn’t the rule of law supposed to be our salvation from the savagery of the free market?”

That is a substantial shot across the bow of American law schools, one that requires some hefty evidence to support. If we require a prime mover of this alleged discrepancy, the author is prepared to offer one:

“[L]aw school’s indifference to student suffering results not from an inexplicable love of torturous methods of instruction, nor from the inevitability of natural human selfishness, but from a profound ideological commitment to a particular version of neoliberal capitalism.”

Who is in the vanguard of that “ideological commitment”? Winterhalter points to former professor now judge Richard Posner as an undisputed leader. He is the most well-known proponent of the law and economics philosophy, which urges us to understand that the law’s primary question and concern should be whether “the rules” promote economic efficiency. That belief system, Winterhalter claims, “is now so deeply ingrained in the teaching at U.S. law schools that it is regarded as dogma.”

The outcome of that hegemonic thinking, he argues, is significant. It affects not just the quality of the law and policy that results. But it also affects the way law school graduates view themselves.

“For most students, the ideological training “takes”—like a plant in new soil. So when they find themselves enduring tough economic times, they assume that, other than grab hold of their bootstraps, there is nothing they can do. As they learned so many times in law school, the market wants what it wants, and it seems—at least at the present moment—not to want them. Since the market, the organ of social judgment, the grumbling gut of a hungry nation, has spoken, there is nothing for them to do but listen. To try, in other words, to make the best of it, all while sensing—if the plant has truly put down roots—the unavoidable conclusion of the law-and-econ doctrines: they deserve their fates.”

That is a powerful indictment. Read his whole essay here.

This may be one of the most unique examinations I’ve read of the truism that law school gets us to think like lawyers. It’s often remarked upon wryly, as if that thinking then does some disservice to those who must live and work amongst attorneys. Winterhalter says it does that, but it harms law graduates, as well.

What do you think of this analysis? Is Winterhalter on to something when it comes to law schools?

Why so down in the mouth, legal profession? For an answer, let's look to the field of dentistry.

Why so down in the mouth, legal profession? For an answer, let’s look to the field of dentistry.

If you are seeking a more concise examination of the state of the legal profession, I’ve got that for you too. Head over to the Wall Street Journal, where an author suggests that legal education is about where dental education was three decades ago: oversubscribed and underemployed. As the author says, “In the 1980s, dozens of dental schools were forced to shrink their class sizes and several shut down.”

There’s even a fun quiz. Find it here.

So if I have a messy desk, I'm a genius like Steve Jobs? Mission accomplished!

So if I have a messy desk, I’m a genius like Steve Jobs? Mission accomplished!

Messy? That’s a strong word for my desk. Let’s just call it dynamic.

In other words, I am not a squeaky-clean, every-paper-in-its-place kind of worker. Instead, my horizontal surfaces are home to a variety of paper-based projects, ranging from mild-mannered hillocks to cloud-scraping mountains. It’s almost always in control, but it may be approaching cry-for-help time.

That’s what led me to chuckle about a few items this week. First, there was a feature story flying around the Internet discussing the value of a messy desk. And then on Friday, a fellow colleague over at the American Bar Association, Elizabeth Derrico, offered up her own photo of her desk as the first of many Thursday shares. Nearly all the desks displayed were messy. Here’s Elizabeth’s:

Messiness a la Elizabeth Derrico, American Bar Association

Messiness a la Elizabeth Derrico, American Bar Association

Here is my own desktop, which I shared in panoramic form (click to enlarge).

My current desk view (yes, there's a desk under there.) Here's my challenge: I'll post a clean one next week.

My current desk view (yes, there’s a desk under there.) Here’s my challenge: I’ll post a clean one next week.

I will offer some of the other displayed desks throughout this post. They are: (1) almost uniformly a disaster, and (2) the workplaces of some of the most productive and imaginative people I know. (Yeah, yeah, correlation not causation. Whatevah!)

Here is the desk of Ann Murphy of the Bar Association of San Francisco (pretty neat, right? She insists she just cleaned it):

Neat, right? This is where Ann Murphy toils for the members of the Bar Association of San Francisco. (And look closely; a special detail will emerge later on).

Neat, right? This is where Ann Murphy toils for the members of the Bar Association of San Francisco. (And look closely; a special detail will emerge later on).

Seeing that stream of desk photos online evinced some predictable responses in me. “I’m not so bad,” I thought, as I compared someone else’s chaos to my own desktop scramble. Here, for example, is the desk of Jenna Grubb, with the Toledo Bar Association. She posted it in sympathy for the train-wreck that is my desk, so she offered her own “equally depressing panorama”!

Jenna Grubb from the Toledo Bar posted this so I wouldn't feel bad about my own paper mill. We both need help.

Jenna Grubb from the Toledo Bar posted this so I wouldn’t feel bad about my own paper mill. We both need help.

But then I would spy someone who managed to work at a tabletop that was actually visible through the detritus, and I was plunged back into self-loathing.

After that, all that I really decided was that I must come into the office this weekend to excavate my desk from beneath the papers. I’ll carry an avalanche transceiver.

Messy desk? Don't attempt a cleanup without an avalanche transceiver.

Messy desk? Don’t attempt a cleanup without an avalanche transceiver.

Here is one other shared desk image. It also hails from the San Francisco Bar, and it is a double-your-fun picture, combining the workspaces of Sayre Ribera and her daughter Audrey. And before you ask: Uh-huh, uh-huh! Sayre’s darling daughter can come to work with her on occasion, where she sets up with her own workspace. They really do do things different in the Bay. (And yes, Audrey, you’re right: I said do-do.)

Sayre Ribera's desk (top) is almost a mirror image of mine (though, oddly, mine likes a tangerine and toilet rolls). At the bottom is the considerably neater workspace of Audrey, her daughter.

Sayre Ribera’s desk (top) is almost a mirror image of mine (though, oddly, mine lacks a tangerine and toilet rolls). At the bottom is the considerably neater workspace of Audrey, her daughter.

That whole encounter helped me see something even deeper about the differences that separate us in our desktop choices: It takes a village to get judgy about other people’s desks.

I must admit I have my own prejudices in that regard. A clean desk kind of freaks me out, and I can’t help but think uncharitably about the owner’s workload or complexity.

I just read a story about the messiness of desks, and my own self-interest demanded I cheer its message. Titled “Why You Should Have a Messy Desk,” the essay was thoughtful, but it trotted out a predictable cast of characters. Did you know Albert Einstein had a messy desk? How about Steve Jobs? Mark Twain?

And so on. With every accumulating example, I was urged to feel better about my own office-space paper mill. After all, if it’s good enough for Einstein, it’s certainly good enough for me. Right?

Except (and it pains me to say this to you readers who may not yet know me): I am not Albert Einstein. Or Mark Twain. Et cetera.

So I cannot jump on the bandwagon that critiques my officemates for their clean desktops. Understand, I think it is freakishly odd, perhaps even the sign of deep, deep emotional issues, issues that may take years to overcome. But I won’t judge them.

Instead, I’ll be in this weekend reducing (if not eliminating) the paper stacks that surround me. And all you Einsteins, enjoy your time at home.

P.S. Hey, didn’t I promise you an extra somethin’ from the photo of Ann Murphy’s desk (above)? Well, here you go. It’s a special addition to Ann’s dry-erase board by Audrey Ribera:

Yes, that is  a unicorn, courtesy of "Unicorn Hour" in Ann Murphy's office, where Audrey Ribera went all painterly on her whiteboard.

Yes, that is a unicorn, courtesy of “Unicorn Hour” in Ann Murphy’s office, where Audrey Ribera went all painterly on her whiteboard.

CORRECTIONS IN COPY: A wise bar communicator (is there any other kind?) notes that I had said a photo “hales from the San Francisco Bar.” Of course, that’s hella wrong. I’ve changed it to “hails from,” and I’ll strive to stop writing these posts during cocktail hour. Thanks! I also was informed that the desk photo that kicked all this off is that of Elizabeth Derrico at the ABA, not of Marilyn Cavicchia (no, the ABA people don’t all look alike; don’t be rude), so I’ve changed that caption.

iPad

Can an iPad help your law practice?

Arizona has been abuzz over the opening of what some describe as an Apple plant (although, if we take off our booster hat, it’s really a non-Apple manufacturing facility. But that’s OK.)

As I followed the fascinating story (and how a school board in Gilbert nearly put the kibosh on the whole deal; read here and here), I was pleased to see how an Arizona law firm has been featured by Apple.

Of course, Apple is always pleased to relate stories of how folks in business make great use of its iPad. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that folks tended to think of the product as a luxury item that was enjoyable but not business-centered. (Yes, we at Arizona Attorney Magazine have tried to convey the contrary view, but lawyers can be resistant.)

That’s why I was doubly pleased at the coverage given to Phoenix law firm Fennemore Craig, especially via a case study (published in 2012) and a cool new video featuring partner James Goodnow.

(Viewing the great coverage of Fennemore by Apple, I asked the firm if it received any benefits from being in the Apple campaign. I got a response from one of the firm’s communications pro, the extremely helpful Linda Vejnoska, a senior account executive at R&R Partners, who confirmed that “the firm did not get any enticement or discount from Apple.” But how did the two get connected? “A story about Fennemore’s usage of the iPad was in the Republic,” Linda continued, “which got picked up on the Gannett wire, and Apple actually called Fennemore.” Thanks, Linda!)

Because Apple is nothing if not multimedia, why don’t you start by clicking here to watch the video.

James Goodnow (on left), Director, Fennemore Craig. (Photo: Apple)

James Goodnow (on left), Director, Fennemore Craig. (Photo: Apple)

And here’s an excerpt from the case study that describes the work of Goodnow and partner Marc Lamber:

“Lamber and Goodnow, who focus on catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases, provide iPads to clients creating instant ‘red phone’ access to the Fennemore Craig legal team. The iPads enable clients to provide key information as it happens such as photos, video logs and signed release forms. It’s instant access to information for clients to receive and provide information and a lifeline helps level the playing field against those with limited resources. In courtroom situations, they can link their iPads to multimedia systems bringing exhibits and presentations to life on individual screens for juries, opposing counsel and the judge.”

Here’s more from the case study:

“If there’s one thing lawyers have too much of, it’s paper; boxes and binders, folders and reams and piles of paper. But at Fennemore Craig, a full-service legal firm based in Phoenix, Arizona, iPad is enabling them to go paperless, saving money and becoming more efficient.”

“‘You used to have three or four copies of everything,’ explains Marc Lamber, one of the firm’s Directors and Chairman of the Plaintiffs’ Personal Injury Practice Group. ‘You could have ten thousand pages of documents for each case. But now it’s on the iPad. You want to highlight a document, underline something, annotate it, or add a note that this page is important? Now you can do all that on an iPad.’”

Keep reading here.

That all makes me wonder: How is technology transforming your practice? Maybe you’re handling matters in an innovative way—so much so that we should cover your work in 2014 via our NextLaw coverage.

Curious about NextLaw? I’ll write more about it in the coming week.

Contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Arizona_Supreme_Court_SealI received some interesting news recently from Heather Murphy (she is the Director of Communications for the Arizona Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts). Heather let me know that judicial education—what we all know as COJET—turned 30 this week. (It doesn’t look a day over 20!)

The anniversary was on November 18, to be precise. (And when you’re dealing with continuing education, you want to be precise!)

When it comes to lawyer education—MCLE—I have heard an earful over the years. But many attorneys may be unaware of all the continuing ed that judicial officers must obtain.

I am looking for stories of court innovation that we can tell in 2014 as part of our NextLaw initiative, and I’m expecting some of those stories may come from our own Supreme Court. I appreciate this story, which is a jump-start on that effort.

Here is a great retelling of the events that led up to this year’s anniversary, as told by the Court itself:

Arizona Supreme Court building

Arizona Supreme Court

 

On this date in 1983, the Arizona Supreme Court established the Council on Judicial Education and Training (COJET). The purpose was to establish educational policies and standards for the court system. Training through COJET covers everything from changes in law, best practices, innovations in court settings, and current issues or topics affecting the administration of justice in our communities.

Now 30 years later, COJET courses have evolved from classroom or seminar-based learning to courses delivered through the internet, via webinars and other technology-based delivery methods. Technology has made it possible to deliver training to the entire state judiciary on a cost-effective basis.

Every full-time employee of the court system is responsible for adhering to a 16-credit hour COJET training requirement to ensure that the staff receives timely, relevant continuing education to enhance and support their role in the courts. People working fewer than 40 hours per week also have training requirements varying from four to 12 hours.

“COJET training is required for everyone, from human resources and support staff to detention and probation officers, managers, clerks and administrators,” said Jeff Schrade, Education Services Director at the Arizona Supreme Court. “For the 2012 calendar year, we delivered training to 8,822 employees statewide.”

For the typical employee, training can be a combination of self-study courses, seminars or conferences. At least six of the credit hours must be facilitated learning in a workshop, seminar, conference, educational group broadcast or college course that meets certain accreditation requirements.

Over the past 30 years, the Council has become the Committee on Judicial Education and Training and the scope has widened to include monitoring the quality of educational programs, recommending changes in policies and standards and approving guidelines for training programs.

Schrade outlined some of his group’s milestones over the last 30 years:

  • The first COJET training videos were produced in 1988.
  • In 1991, the topic of domestic violence was selected for the first statewide broadcast training, which was delivered to five remote sites.
  • An all-day broadcast on victims’ rights followed in 1992.
  • The first national broadcast program took place in 1993 on the topic of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The Probation Officer Certification Academy was launched in 1995.
  • In 1998, Arizona became one of a small number of states authorized to deliver locally the accredited programs normally offered at the National Center for State Courts in Virginia.
  • The Judicial Education Center opened in 2001, providing a central location with multiple classroom configurations for large or small training events.
  • The Arizona Supreme Court began delivering courses via webcast in 2009.
  • In 2012, training requirements were temporarily pared back to 12 hours for non-judge court staff due to budget constraints at the state, county and municipal court levels.
  • In 2013, the 16-hour COJET requirement for full-time staff was restored.
  • The Presiding Judges Leadership Academy was also launched in 2013.

“The secret to our success is that we deliver highly relevant training on issues that court staff encounter on a regular basis but we also focus on emerging issues and trends,” Schrade explained. “We have a great committee that helps us plan training classes, study and respond to evaluations and develop new curriculum as needed.”

TX novel A Serious MistakeThose who work at publications get a lot of story pitches, and among them are a good number of books offered for review.

In Arizona Attorney Magazine, we occasionally run reviews of books, but they tend not to be of the murder-novel or bodice-ripping variety.

But what if those categories could be combined into one?

The other day, I got a pitch that made me rethink our resistance to the tawdrier side of the fiction aisle. Maybe lawyers want to read a ripping good yarn of legal intrigue and bloody retribution.

Even more interesting, the most recent pitch was for a novel that arose from … the lawyer discipline system.

Here is the background on a novel from a Texas attorney:

“Frank R. Southers’ new book A Serious Mistake is the second novel in his The Grievance Committee series. The series centers on the Grievance Committee of San Antonio, Texas, with each novel focusing on a slightly different storyline. A Serious Mistake focuses on criminal defense lawyer Scott Lonnigan, who takes his job very seriously.”

No, I’m the one who’s serious. I kid you not: A lawyer grievance committee. Despite my misgivings, I was drawn in to read more:

“Scott Lonnigan treats his appointment to the Grievance Committee in San Antonio, Texas just the same as his job as a criminal defense lawyer: with deadly seriousness. Many would go so far as to say that the job consumes Scott’s life. He throws himself into his work, always making sure to use common sense when judging the often heated and weighty complaints against lawyers. A lot hangs in the balance for members of both sides, and Lonnigan makes sure he respects the importance of his job. In his eyes, every accusation means at least one person, whether the lawyer or the client, made a serious mistake.”

TX novel The Grievance CommitteeOK, you’re interested right, but you want to hear more? How about another book by the same author, and with a description that provides some juicy tidbits? Here is an excerpt from The Grievance Committee, also by Frank Southers:

“Using his professional relationship as court-appointed attorney for beautiful Alexandra Jimenez, a serial shoplifter, Jose P. Quiroz has tricked her into sexual relations for months through deceit and dishonesty, and now has dumped her for another woman.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Ripped from the lawyer discipline pages, right? (Sorry I interrupted.)

“By showing that her made-up accusations are just spite from a broken love affair, Jose’s lawyer, Albert Hicks defeats her complaint with the Grievance Committee in San Antonio, Texas. Besides, he notes, sexual relations between a lawyer and the client are not prohibited.”

(I do not offer this as a synopsis of the state of the Ethical Rules in Arizona. Note that ER 1.8(j) maintains “A lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client–lawyer relationship commenced.” Proceed with your own client at your own risk.)

“With prayers to her patron saint, Alexandra finds Jose has also tricked two other female clients into sexual relations and she convinces them to file grievances. After losing at the second Grievance Hearing, Jose sues requesting a jury trial.”

Hmmm; it’s moving from a bodice-ripper into a civ pro procedural. Getting drowsy? Maybe your interest will be piqued if we then meet a judge (whom I’m guessing is steely-eyed) and a colorfully named stripper:

“Assigned from north Texas, Judge Horace Sawtelle visits for pre-trial matters and has a one-night stand with ex-stripper Missy Bubbles, who secretly has taken racy photos of the two. When the judge is ready the next night for round two, he finds Missy has been murdered.”

Oh, Missy Bubbles, how the attorney reading community will miss you. Your appearance on the scene was as effervescent as a … bubble, I suppose.

I kid, of course, because I tip my hat to all authors, even those focused on lawyer discipline. My prediction and wish for the author is that Judge Sawtelle, Scott Lonnigan and their cohort of fellow characters will grace quite a few stockings this holiday season. If you’re interested for yourself or for someone who needs a gift, head over to the author’s website.

Texas attorney-novelist Frank Southers

Texas attorney-novelist Frank Southers

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