Arizona Attorney Magazine


Center for Plain Language logoHere is an annual story I always enjoy: the award for plainness in writing emanating from the federal government.

Thanks to the Center for Plain Language, we now know which government departments wrote cleanly and crisply in the past year—and which ones fell far short.

As reporter Lisa Rein describes the results in the Washington Post, those that did well included Homeland Security (I know; I can’t believe it either), the Social Security Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But:

“The poor performers landing at the bottom of the 2014 Federal Plain Language Report Card were the Interior, State and Education departments. Interior and State didn’t submit writing samples, and their programs are anemic, the report said, while Education earned passing grades for writing and design but a “D” in compliance with the law.”

The Post story also provides the following example of muddy writing, this one coming from the U.S. Coast Guard:

The Coast Guard's at sea: The opposite of plain writing.

The Coast Guard’s at sea: The opposite of plain writing.

Oy. Maybe I should send the Coast Guard a copy of one of many great writing books I’ve re-read over the years, The Craft of Clarity by Robert Knight.

See the Center’s complete report card here.

The Craft of Clarity by Robert Knight book coverAlways on the hunt for simplification and clarity in our little corner of the world, I just conducted a small experiment on an online “readability calculator,” using our own written copy from Arizona Attorney Magazine.

This website will give you all kinds of data about the writing of you or others. Just paste in a sample of the writing and it will tell you the grade level the piece might best “reach.”

Using content from the upcoming March issue of the magazine, I pasted in exemplars from a few lawyer-written articles. I was pleased to see they came in at the range of 10th grade through 12th grade. (No, you really don’t want your language to reach exactly the grade level most of your readers have achieved. Readers are busy, and a readability score of 19, based on the average years of schooling of an attorney, is simply a recipe for disaster and obfuscation. A modest 10-12 is just fine.)

And then I pasted in my own editor’s column from the same issue. That’s when I saw it yielded a readability score of 7.0. That is 7th grade.

Sounds about right.

The good news: Time-stressed readers will not be overly taxed by giving my column a quick read.

The bad news: It looks like I’ll never get into the Coast Guard.

Have a wonderful—and rigorously disentangled—weekend.

Grant Woods delivers the keynote address at the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Camelback Inn, Jan. 15, 2015.

Grant Woods delivers the keynote address at the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Camelback Inn, Jan. 15, 2015.

What makes a lawyer event more enjoyable? When organizers can dial down the lawyerliness. (Yes, I just coined a word. Sue me.)

That ability to create an event dedicated to lawyers but also committed to battling sleepiness is what has made the annual corporate counsel awards dinner such a great ticket.

This year’s event was on January 15, at the Camelback Inn, and I have a few theories as to why they achieve goodness when others may not.

First, it’s put on by a magazine. True, the sponsor is the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. But helping to run the show are magazine types.

No, not Arizona Attorney. (Sigh.) Instead, the folks at AZ Business Magazine have been tapped to steer the evening. And they’ve managed to make the vessel a fleet-bowed skiff rather than a slow-moving ocean liner (or, even worse, a Titanic).

There’s just something—I don’t know—impatient about magazine people. We want to get to the nut of the issue, the meat of the matter. And so the magazine staff (including the emcee–editor-in-chief Michael Gossie) and others from AZBigMedia (note to self: Steal that name) goosed the evening along, never allowing it to come to rest as many legal events do.

Second, the honorees are some of the best corporate counsel around. So when the winner is announced (or even the finalists), the business-attuned audience nods with recognition. These are the companies that weathered storms, established beachheads, reached the summits. And they did all that with excellent legal teams. (The winners’ names and companies will appear in a subsequent post.)

So there’s that. And then there’s the keynote.

When I heard keynote speaker Grant Woods a year ago, I laughed my keister off (like everyone else in the room), and I assumed it would be his last appearance at the annual event. Why is that? Well, Grant pulled no punches in his hilarious political monologue. And legal events—especially among risk-averse corporate counsel, I’m sorry to say—are highly adept at pulling punches. Yes, Grant was a crowd-pleaser. But was he an event-organizer pleaser? I guessed the answer was no.

How pleased I am that I was wrong. Grant again was the speaker, arriving this time in jeans and an unbuttoned blue shirt.

Well, if he comes next year in a robe and slippers, the AAC should still welcome him.

As there is a mixed audience for this blog—some of whom may be a tad thin-skinned—I won’t pass on all of Grant’s gems. But here are a few:

Q: What’s the difference between an Arizona state legislator and God?

A: God doesn’t think he’s an Arizona state legislator.

But no, don’t worry, Grant’s items were not all rim shots. He offered political observations created out of a lifetime of Arizona living, law practice, and public service.

Since he was in high school, he noted, no Arizona governor has entered office and left it “normally.” Whether to head off to a better job or running out the door ahead of impeachment proceedings, our chief execs have been a colorful lot.

Grant focused his time and talents on three noteworthy items: the presidential race, Sen. John McCain, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But along the way, he had skewers available for others. Among them:

  • Newly elected schools chief Diane Douglas (“She hid in her house for the last week and a half of the campaign so she wouldn’t be interviewed. She won!”)
  • Former Maricopa County Sheriff Dick Godbehere, who led a helicopter raid not only outside the county line but into Mexico itself. The retired lawn-mower repairman kept in his office a prized possession of what he claimed to be ancient artifacts—including a sculpture of an automobile (think about it).
  • Sometime- and often presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who mused in amazement that it is possible to FedEx a horse—something never imagined by anyone in my humble neighborhood).

Through it all, the audience—of many political stripes, I would guess—was laughing as they never can do in boardrooms. But ultimately, Grant offered the AAC audience a moment of high seriousness.

“There are smart, compassionate and innovative lawyers in our state,” Woods said, pointing to members of the audience. “I salute you, and I am proud to be part of your profession.”

Grant Woods addresses a packed room at the Camelback Inn for the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Jan. 15, 2015.

Grant Woods addresses a packed room at the Camelback Inn for the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Jan. 15, 2015.

“All of you worked really hard to achieve what you have,” he ended. “I’m proud to be a lawyer, and I’m proud of our fellow lawyers.”

Well done, ACC and AZBigMedia. As just one guy who occasionally gets sleepy at lawyer events, I urge you to get Grant to sign on for another year.

What’s Hot and What’s Not In The Legal Profession Hot_tamales

What’s hot and what’s not In the legal profession?

Most of us enjoy gazing into the legal profession’s crystal ball, especially when someone else is doing the heavy lifting.

That’s why I so much appreciate Bob Denney’s annual prognostications about what will be the hot (or not) legal practice areas in the coming year.

Among his leading contenders: intellectual property, federal False Claim Act litigation, labor and employment, and technology. His whole list and analysis are here.

You really need to read all the way to the end. That’s where Bob offers analysis that could assist your practice (or our magazine coverage).

Hot and Not law practice areasThis kind of project is a brave one, because any one of us can armchair-review his predictions from the previous year. (I know you want to; read his notions about 2014 here.)

Finally, I very much appreciate his mentioning the False Claims Act. We’ve covered its growing power in Arizona Attorney Magazine, and commentator JD Supra agrees with Bob.

And who else agrees? Perhaps a Tucson health care network that paid $35 million in a fraud settlement last year. Ouch times 35.

Do Bob’s predictions resonate in your own practice? And which of his assessments are most surprising to you? Write to me at Arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

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Arizona Summit Law professors Jalae Ulicki (left) and Penny Willrich with Arizona Attorney Editor Tim Eigo, Jan. 20, 2015, after taping of an educational video on mediation as a healing art.

Arizona Summit Law professors Jalae Ulicki (left) and Penny Willrich with Arizona Attorney Editor Tim Eigo, Jan. 20, 2015, after taping of an educational video on mediation as a healing art.

Last week, I got to engage in what has become a highlight of my month: a dialogue with some current Arizona Attorney authors.

The point of the very enjoyable exercise is to create a short video. This partnership with the State Bar of Arizona CLE Department is called “CLE Snippets,” and this month’s authors are Professors Penny Willrich and Jalae Ulicki, both of the Arizona Summit Law School.

The way it works is this: I provide the list of articles for the upcoming month’s issue and chat with Jenn Sonier in the CLE Department. After a little collaboration, we agree on what topic may lend itself well to a brief Q&A video. And the next time we meet in the CLE Center, I try to dress nice, the authors arrive, and Jenn tapes us in riveting conversation.

Well, that’s the plan. Authors Willrich and Ulicki certainly held up their end of the bargain, offering great insight as we discussed their article titled “Lessons Learned From Peacemaking: Mediation as a Healing Art.”

(In what’s become a sort-of tradition, I try to snap a selfie with the authors. This month, the terrific Jenn Sonier did the photographic honors, above.)

I’ll share a link when it’s available. But in the meantime, thank you to our talented authors for taking the time to share their thoughts about an important topic.

survey-says

If ever you wonder about the future of the legal profession, this is the season to answer those questions. For it is in the early part of the year when prognosticators offer their view of the legal economy and the practice area outlook.

Today, I point you to Robert Half and Associates, which surveyed lawyers nationwide on their hiring predictions.

The short takeaway is that 26 percent of lawyers surveyed said they’d be expanding or adding new positions in the coming year. Of course, that means 74 percent said they would not be doing that, so I’m not sure how positive a message that is.

I will post more from RHA below, but I wonder what your own predictions are. In November, we published some of the results from a State Bar of Arizona member survey. There, many of you indicated a mildly positive outlook for the future—though it was certainly not a rave review.

You can read more about that survey here. Does it reflect your own views?

rh_classic_monogram Robert Half Legal logoAnd here again is Robert Half:

“The legal field should see additional hiring in the first half of 2015, new research indicates. Twenty-six percent of lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal said their law firm or company plans to expand or add new positions in the first six months of this year. Sixty percent of lawyers said they expect to only fill vacant posts, while 7 percent said they will neither fill vacant positions nor create new ones. Just 1 percent of survey respondents anticipate staff reductions.”

(If you like to see factoids reported via infographic, the company provides a good one here.)

Podcast? Why, sure. Go here.

As the company goes on to report:

Lawyers were asked, “Which one of the following practice areas, in your opinion, will offer the greatest number of job opportunities in the first half of 2015?” Their responses:*

Litigation 36%
General business/commercial law 14%
Real estate 9%
Regulatory or compliance 6%
Family law 6%
Labor and employment 3%
Healthcare 3%
Privacy, data security and information law 2%
Tax law 2%
Other 11%
None/don’t know/no answer 9%
101%

*Total percentage does not equal 100 due to rounding.

Lawyers who cited “litigation” as a response also were asked, “Which of the following areas of litigation, if any, will offer the greatest job opportunities in the first half of 2015?” Their responses:**

Insurance defense 45%
Commercial litigation 23%
Employment 17%
Medical malpractice 8%
Personal injury 7%
Intellectual property 6%
Class actions 3%
Other 10%
Don’t know 5%

**Multiple responses were permitted.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky delivered keynote remarks at a conference on the implications of drones.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky delivered keynote remarks at a conference on the implications of drones.

Our June issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine contained some terrific content, And in an ICYMI effort, I’ll be pointing you to a few pieces between now and the end of the month.

Today, it’s all about the drone—and its privacy implications.

We were able to feature two great pieces. One came our way via the folks at the UNLV Boyd law school, the venue where a terrific conference on unmanned aerial systems (yes, drones) was held late in 2014.

And we also published an article by our own correspondent, Mary Tran. Mary is a Boyd law student, and previously lived and learned in Phoenix. I was so pleased to collaborate with her on her piece, which described the event’s keynote remarks by UC-Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

You can read both articles online here.

More photos from the symposium are here.

It seems clear that drones will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. They will be used by businesses and governments. In the future, we’d like to cover the legal aspects of drones, which aspects may reveal themselves in surprising ways.

Does your practice area lend insight to those implications? Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Unmanned aerial systems (drones) are part of our future. How should they be used?

Unmanned aerial systems (drones) are part of our future. How should they be used?

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