Got Skills?

Pardon my blatant use of jargon as an attention-grabbing device. I happened upon this list of top ten legal skills and it got me thinking.

According to About.com, the first skill a lawyer needs to make his or her own is oral communication. Four of the five listed sub-skills involve imparting information, while only one of the skills, tagging along at the end of the list, is effective or “keen” listening. In my opinion, the list is weighted in the wrong direction. Listening is paramount. I believe that active and effective listening must be precede any attempt to impart information.  How can you convey clear and concise ideas, communicate persuasively, advocate the correct position, or master legal terminology if you don’t have a grasp on the problem or the unmet need? This is a skill that I believe many lawyers are sorely lacking.

I like the next skill – written communication. It is my bread and butter. And I like how About.com organizes the sub-skills, assuming that primacy equals importance. First, master stylistic and mechanical aspects of writing. Next, master the fundamentals of grammar. Next, learn to write organized and effective prose. Finally, after all of the foregoing are absorbed, draft effective legal documents. I do not believe that you an accomplish the last skill on the list until you have a firm and steadfast grasp on the first three skills, although I might place grammar ahead of writing organized and effective prose.

Three. Client Service. This skill is applicable to all businesses and not just to the law. Client service should take precedence when operating a roadside lemonade stand to heading up a Fortune 500 company. You must remember who your clients are and what matters most to them. The About.com list places rainmaking at the top, which makes sense in a chicken-or-the-egg sort of way, but I believe that the servicing of existing clients is far more important than netting new ones. To me, customer service and customer communication are paramount and repeat business is gold.

Analytical and logical reasoning.  To an extent, this skill can be taught. However, I believe it is really more of a trait than a skill. About.com refers to this process as assimilating large volumes of complex information in an efficient and effective manner. The importance of logicality is not unique to the practice of law, but is particularly well utilized in our field. The more complex the problem, the more valuable the reasoning process becomes. Argument structure and inductive and deductive reasoning are of value in crafting legal arguments.  But I dare you to identify someone who wouldn’t be aided by an enhanced ability to persuade another of the value of their point of view. Heck, these skills would assist any person negotiating the trials of everyday family life.

No doubt about it – legal research is unique and vital to our industry. One must learn proper research techniques with an eye trained on emerging technologies and information management. One also must be able to analyze what is netted from the research. This analysis is aided by the logical reasoning skill outlined in the prior paragraph.  On the other hand, learning proper citation form, effective statutory interpretation and proper use of legal software are mechanical skills that can be absorbed easily with instruction. I also think that the list is missing something. I firmly believe that there is a creative component in the researching process. The best researchers understand this and employ creativity to their benefit.  Thus, I would recommend that About.com include creativity in researching, writing and argument crafting.

Skill six is technology. This includes facility with legal software, communication technology, electronic discovery, document management and litigation support, legal research software and the Internet. I have no argument with this one. I also accept that being a good lawyer requires developing tech know-now and making wise technology decisions. I am somewhat surprised to find this down in the sixth position. Even in my senior, near dinosaur state, I recognize that technology is racing forward at a rapid rate. Many lawyers who are failing to apprehend the evolution are being left behind.

The next skill is knowledge of substantive law. While I concede that this aids efficient practice in a chosen area, I do not rate this as a skill, but rather a convenience. A lawyer possessing the other skills can obtain substantive knowledge in any area of law. I would not necessarily trust the result of a lawyer who depends entirely on their own “substantive” knowledge of the law. Since no attorney can be an expert on every area of law or even every nuance in one area of law, I would rather have a creative, logical, thorough attorney with great skill in research and technology who is not afraid to dig deep into a new area of the law to acquaint themselves with the latest developments.

Time management is also a useful skill, not only for lawyers but for anyone faced with more than one task. If you have a strong work ethic and are able to multi-task, juggle priorities and meet tight deadlines, you will find success in any endeavor. The first cousin of time management, organization, also comes in handy in accomplishing any task, not just law-related pursuits.

Finally, occupying last place, my favorite “skill” is being a team player. Even solo practitioners are not alone: there are support staff, opposing counsel, clients and court personnel to negotiate. The three “C”‘s are highlighted in the article: collaboration; coordination; and, cultivation. Being a team player means recognizing a common goal and sublimating personal needs to the good of the whole in reaching that goal. Working effectively and efficiently with others will only make a lawyer’s job easier.

I would add to this list a willingness to be open to new areas of law, technology and practice. I have seen many lawyers fall into a “rut” and lose that elasticity that new lawyers seem to have in abundance upon exiting law school.  I am unsure whether it is human nature to become “set in our ways” or an evolution unique to the law practice.  I believe that the best lawyers can roll with legal and social change, are willing employ creativity to solve emerging issues and are ready to reinvent themselves and their practices to address emerging needs. In the process, the listed attributes can only help.

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The Pen Is (Now) Mightier Than The Sword

Ooooh, this is just so cool. I posted a while back about my love affair with the Wacom Bamboo which is a little pen tablet hooked up to my laptop that helps me maintain an illusion of a connection to my analog beginnings. This new toy brings the digital interface even closer to that original quill-scratch-on-birch-bark experience. Enter Pulse, the SmartPen, from LiveScribe.

LiveScribe Pulse Smartpen 

PC Magazine has the following description of this amazing little tool:

Essentially a writing implement with a small computer wrapped around it, the Pulse Smartpen uses a camera (just under and behind the pen) and custom paper with millions of microdots to capture every stroke and notation. The real magic, though, is that the pen simultaneously records every sound and connects the resulting audio to the captured image. All the captured material is timeline based, so turning back to any page in your notes and tapping the pen on a word will restart your audio at the precise moment your wrote that word.

The beauty of the audio feature is that you can make sure that you got your notes right by clicking on the word to restart the audio and measure what was actually said against what was written.

David Pogue at The New York Times reports that the Smartpen employs a process similar to another favorite product, Microsoft’s OneNote. The difference is that OneNote records while you type, while the Smartpen records while you write. For some challenges experienced by the user, check out Pogue’s article linked above.

The pen comes in a 1GB and a 2GB version and one one book of the special paper.  You can buy additional books for approximately $5 a piece, in a pack of four. The pen also comes with a docking cradle and a sheet of controls that include, among other tasks, navigation and replay and volume. Software is downloaded from LiveScribe’s website. The pen has proprietary headphones for private listening and sports a small LED screen on which you can even watch simple animation. The 2GB model can hold about 100 hours of audio , which can then be downloaded to your PC. The only downside is the inability of the software to permit effective organization or indexing of the loaded pages. I imagine this will be rectified as newer software versions are released.

I can think of dozens of applications in the business world in general and the legal world in particular for such a device.

Did I also add that it is a ball point pen?  Gee, what will they think of next? I really can’t wait.

It's A Goooooooooooooolllllllllddddd!

Yesterday, in Beijing, the U.S. Women’s National Team made history by snatching the gold medal away from heavily-favored Brazil with a final score of 1-0 from an overtime goal from midfielder Carli Lloyd. The U.S. Team was missing several key players, including their star striker Abby Wambach to a broken leg in a “friendly” match against Brazil one month ago.

It was nothing short of heart-stopping to watch. The 18 women that make up our national team worked together as a seamless unit and applied every ounce of their grit, determination and championship qualities to deny a stunningly crafty offense at every turn.

As a major fan and as a regular player of the sport, I have always said that I would rather have a team then a superstar or two. The support for that claim was apparent yesterday when a team denied the best and arguably second best female strikers in the world, Marta and Christiane. And it was even more exciting to watch American keeper Hope Solo “put her money where her mouth is” by repeatedly making tremendous save after tremendous save and shutting the Brazilian offensive machine out.

At the end of the match, it was clear from the faces of both the gold and silver medal winners that this game had nothing to do with money and everything to do with pride.

U.S. Women's 2008 Soccer Team

Thanks, girls, for making us all proud! Thanks for showing us what being a champion is all about!

It’s A Goooooooooooooolllllllllddddd!

Yesterday, in Beijing, the U.S. Women’s National Team made history by snatching the gold medal away from heavily-favored Brazil with a final score of 1-0 from an overtime goal from midfielder Carli Lloyd. The U.S. Team was missing several key players, including their star striker Abby Wambach to a broken leg in a “friendly” match against Brazil one month ago.

It was nothing short of heart-stopping to watch. The 18 women that make up our national team worked together as a seamless unit and applied every ounce of their grit, determination and championship qualities to deny a stunningly crafty offense at every turn.

As a major fan and as a regular player of the sport, I have always said that I would rather have a team then a superstar or two. The support for that claim was apparent yesterday when a team denied the best and arguably second best female strikers in the world, Marta and Christiane. And it was even more exciting to watch American keeper Hope Solo “put her money where her mouth is” by repeatedly making tremendous save after tremendous save and shutting the Brazilian offensive machine out.

At the end of the match, it was clear from the faces of both the gold and silver medal winners that this game had nothing to do with money and everything to do with pride.

U.S. Women's 2008 Soccer Team

Thanks, girls, for making us all proud! Thanks for showing us what being a champion is all about!

RSS Feeds and You

Aaah. the reinsuring “clunk” of the morning Gazette, pounds of newsprint folded twice, lovingly wrapped in plastic and hurled at your front door with all the velocity a 12-year-old arm can muster. Part of the morning routine, right along with that big cup of Joe.

But the news doesn’t stop at 6 a.m. And what do you do if you want to get it fresh at 1:45 p.m.?  Sure, you could wait for the evening edition, but that means you will have to get up out of your easy chair, leave your home and perambulate to the local newsstand. While the cardiovascular benefits are obvious, the time drain is unavoidable. And it’s still not fresh. Plus, you have to weed through all the print you have NO interest in and, ultimately, you have to recycle all that paper.

Enter RSS. “Really Simple Syndication.”  “Ready For Some Stories” (which actually is RFSS, but who’s counting). Whatever you want to call it, RSS is a mechanism by which you can arrange to have the information you are interested in obtaining delivered fresh to your computer as it is generated 24 /7 without that clunk on your front porch.

Most websites have the ability to deliver RSS feeds, so you can “subscribe” to whatever feeds you are interested in receiving by clicking the little symbol: rss symbol

Sure, you can get the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, BBC Front Page or whatever mainstream news source you are longing for. But for me, the real beauty of RSS is in the ability to search out sources with a more narrow focus but greater depth of information, such as blogs or industry-specific sites, and arrange for that information to come to you, rather than you go searching for it when your research need arises.

What exactly is RSS good for? Well, tons of things. Rather than list them all here, check out this list by Tim Yang which is quite exhaustive. My favorite is this one (although I would substitute something else for girlfriend):

Ditch Your Girlfriend

Get your girlfriend to download an RSS reader, get her to subscribe to your very special feed only for her. Post some items you would normally write to her via email. Do this for a couple of weeks, then drop the bad news. Expect the subscription circluation to drop off at this point.

Which brings up another important point: you can create your own RSS feeds to distribute timely “news” to your own subscribers. This can include your colleagues, your co-workers, your peers, your CLIENTS. Yes, you can get with the tens and start delivering your own content by RSS rather than more traditional email newsletters.

What do I use them for? I primarily employ them passively, rather than actively a la the example quoted above. I use a free program called FeedDemon from Newsgator. It is a desktop RSS reader, as opposed to a web-based reader, such as Google Reader. I like my program, which is loaded on both of my two computers and which updates and synchronizes from either unit. I searched out my favorite news sources and subscribed to them through FeedDemon. When I open FeedDemon, the items are automatically updated. I have lots of options for customizing how the information is presented. If I leave the program running, new entries show up in a little box down in the corner of my screen, just like my new email. You also can download podcasts through this program into your iPod or Windows Media Player. You can skim the shorts and read only what you want. You can “clip” interesting entries and store them in a folder for later digestion. You can send entries to friends who might also be interested.

How do you find feeds? There are RSS search engines out there. Try NewsIsFree or RSSMad, a searchable RSS archive. FeedDemon comes with an RSS searching function, which I find to be easy to use but not the most comprehensive option available. If you are into finding your information with more pinpoint accuracy and filtering out the junk, try Kebberfegg, a keyword-based RSS feed generator. There also is FeedMySearch, which can turn your Google searches into tiny RSS feeds. You can also manipulate your RSS information with these more advanced tools, listed in an ABA Journal article by Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy here:

  • Feedgit — this site allows you to create your own RSS feed from major news, blog, video, image, and other search tools.  Simply enter your keywords, select the type of RSS reader you use, and Feedgit generates an RSS feed from those keywords.  Just “subscribe” to that feed in your newsreader, and whenever your search terms appear on that particular site, you’ll be instantly notified.
  • PonyFish — does your favorite site lack an RSS feed?  With PonyFish it’s not a problem.  Just plug in the URL of the site, click on the links you want to see when they are updated, and voila!  You’re creating RSS feeds where none existed before!
  • FeedBlendr — Tom has a number of feeds that search different sites for the same terms.  Rather than have all of those feeds, Tom uses FeedBlendr to combine them into a single feed.  Now, whenever his search terms are mentioned at any of these sites, he’s notified through one unified feed.
  • FeedRinse — those of you who are already using RSS may find that you get a lot more information than you anticipated.  FeedRinse can help with this, by applying a filter to your feeds.You can specify specific words or phrases (including profanity) that you don’t want to see, and FeedRinse sends you only the stories you’re interested in reading.
  • ReminderFeed — you can also use RSS to remind you of important appointments, dates and deadlines.  ReminderFeed does just that, notifying you by RSS at the time you specify.
  • Rasasa — if you’re on the road and don’t have access to your feeds, Rasasa can help.  It will forward your RSS headlines to your mobile phone if you’re offline, or to your IM or e-mail programs if you’re online.

If your website of interest does not have an RSS feed, you can try PonyFish mentioned above, or this little widget SendMeRss. Or try WotzWot here.

Yes, it certainly does have the outward appearance of information overload. But in reality, RSS is targeted information transfer and manipulation so that you can access the information you really want, when you want it and before you even need it. ‘Praemonitus, praemunitus” or “forewarned is forearmed”, as Don Quixote might say. Try it out for yourself, you might get hooked.

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Robert Ambrogi's LawSites: New Site Collects Legal Software Reviews

Robert Ambrogi, over at LawSites, just published the following news-bit about a site called LitiReviews that collects reviews of legal software. While it is operated by a company that has its own case management software product, the site at least provides a convenient collection of reviews for a “one stop shopping” approach to investigatory purchasing. Thanks Mr. Ambrogi for the great resource! 

Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites: New Site Collects Legal Software Reviews

Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites: New Site Collects Legal Software Reviews

Robert Ambrogi, over at LawSites, just published the following news-bit about a site called LitiReviews that collects reviews of legal software. While it is operated by a company that has its own case management software product, the site at least provides a convenient collection of reviews for a “one stop shopping” approach to investigatory purchasing. Thanks Mr. Ambrogi for the great resource! 

Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites: New Site Collects Legal Software Reviews

Technology Tools for Information Management | LLRX.com

Cheap is good. Free is better. This is a great list of technology “tools” that make some already good functions even better for not a lot of scratch. Check them out and see if there is something in here that can make your life a little easier. Thanks LLRX!

Technology Tools for Information Management | LLRX.com

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Technology Tools for Information Management | LLRX.com

Cheap is good. Free is better. This is a great list of technology “tools” that make some already good functions even better for not a lot of scratch. Check them out and see if there is something in here that can make your life a little easier. Thanks LLRX!

Technology Tools for Information Management | LLRX.com

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A Treo For Pros!

I love it! A beautiful new offering from Palm, my mobile gadget of choice! Enter the Treo Pro:

Treo Pro
I currently run a Treo 750 and this beauty has all the goods my 750 lacks. Some of the highlights: a flush touchscreen, WiFi, 2 megapixel camera, a nonproprietary (finally) micro USB sync and charge connector, a standard sized 3.5mm headphone jack, and a nicely-sized 1500 mAh battery. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1, which I think is just great for a business phone and enables the use of Office Mobile. The processor is beefier too, at 400 Mhz, and storage size is upgraded to 256 MB rom and 128 MB ram. It will also support up to 32 gb microSD cards. It comes with Adobe Reader and the Telenav GPS software that I am currently enjoying on my 750. I am not sure if the GPS receiver is built into the phone – with mine, you need to employ a separate receiver to use the GPS function.

You can get the lowdown all over the web. I got mine here from Treonauts, via email yesterday. It is nice to see Palm stepping it up a bit in the face of the stiff competition represented by the 3G iPhone and soon-to-be-available Blackberry Bold.

It also is nice to have some real news on a new Palm release after last week’s rapid excitement and nearly as rapid let-down brought about by the mythical new touchscreen Centro:

Centro Touchscreen

Isn’t it cute?

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