Whether you like it or not, most of the world will develop an opinion of you based on what they see on the internet – based on your firm’s website, your wall on Facebook, your posts on LinkedIn, your tweets or whatever else is out there on Google by or about you. Remember that you have an image and a brand and you can either build up that brand or tear it down based on what you put out there in the internet. Also, from time to time, Google yourself and see what others are saying. With so many attorney review sites popping up, investigate what your reputation is and always do what you can to improve your online reputation.
The key to writing is grabbing the reader’s attention and not letting go. Wham! Right between the eyes. Once you have landed that first punch, do not let up. Make your point and stick to it. Wander from your message, confuse or obfuscate it, and you run the risk of losing the reader. Make every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every syllable count, pushing the reader to your conclusion, getting him to embrace it like it was his own. What follows are some tips on how to improve your writing, whether it is addressed to a judge, a client or opposing counsel.
1. Brainstorm. Before you write, take a pen and a piece of paper and brainstorm your ideas. At this stage, leave the computer off. Just you and a piece of paper, making lists, jotting down ideas, doodling perhaps, figuring out what you are going to write about. Put down whatever idea comes into your head, however foolish it may strike you. You can discard the foolish ideas later. Who knows. That foolish idea may not be so foolish after all.
2. Prepare an outline. After you have put your thoughts on paper, organize them in the form of an outline. Sort through your ideas, keeping some and discarding others. The outline will serve as a blueprint for your writing.
3. Read. When you are not writing, spend time reading. Read the paper, magazines, non-fiction books, fiction, anything you can get your hands on. As you read, study the writing. How does the writer start? How does he build on his lead? How does he conclude? What words does he use and how does he use them? It is by reading that you will most improve your writing skills. Everything you read can serve as a writing tutorial.
4. Know your audience. Remember, you are not writing for you, you are writing for your audience. Forget this and risk alienating and boring the reader. How you write a motion for a judge is different from how you write a letter to a client.
5. Serve the reader. Keep the reader’s needs in the forefront when you write and serve those needs to a fault. You write to inform the reader, to persuade him, and yes, to entertain him. Serve your selfish needs over the reader’s at the risk of losing the reader’s attention.
Continuing the presentation of the Ten Commandments of Leadership for Lawyers--Why It Counts---a paper prepared by me and Connie Lewis Lensing of FedEx. The first five commandments were that training will create better lawyers, better people, a better ethics/professionalism environment, more business, and a better environment for your law firm. Here is the sixth commandment:
6. You will improve the visibility of your firm. Of course, it is important for lawyers to be effective leaders in the law firm and in their practice of law. However, law firms should encourage their lawyers to get involved in things beyond the law firm. They can become leaders in other legal organizations and associations—like DRI, IADC, FDCC or Lawyers for Civil Justice. That will improve the visibility of the individual lawyer and, derivatively, his or her law firm. You will learn things. You will be involved in an important network beyond the law firm, which expands your horizons and referral base. And you will have some fun. Getting involved actively in legal organizations exposes a lawyer to a host of new referring lawyers and potential clients, and impressing those other people in that environment will say a lot about you and your law firm.
Get in the habit of reading the local business paper each day. Generally these papers highlight what is going on in the legal community. You can follow what your peers are doing, keep up with business and legal trends and add to your general knowledge for cocktail hour conversation. In Miami, read the Daily Business Review and the Florida Bar News to see what colleagues are doing. If you notice an old friend or colleague move to another firm, go in-house or win a major victory, consider sending her a handwritten note congratulating her. It’s a good way to keep in touch.
When preparing for your client’s deposition, spend time drafting what you expect to be the other side’s cross-examination. Think through the questions they’ll ask, the lines of questioning they’ll pursue, the potential traps they’ll try to set. This will help you focus on the tough questions you expect to be asked of your client and you can better prepare her on how to respond to them.
Many of us are visual learners. When preparing your client for deposition, consider writing out the main facts, theories, themes and so forth on a dry erase board or large pad. It will be a running list that you will add to and refer to throughout your meeting and that will facilitate the learning process.
After your client’s deposition, take the time to debrief her. What did she think about the deposition? The questions asked? The lines of questioning? How they were asked? How did the prep sessions help her? What did she find most useful about the prep sessions? Were the prep sessions lacking in any way? Find out your client’s impressions about her deposition so you can learn how you can improve your prep sessions for your next deposition.
Continuing the presentation of the Ten Commandments of Leadership for Lawyers--Why It Counts---a paper prepared by me and Connie Lewis Lensing of FedEx. The first four commandments were that training will create better lawyers, better people, a better ethics/professionalism environment, and more business. Here is the fifth commandment:
You will create a better environment in your law firm. Creating a successful law firm, one in which people want to join and stay, is a lot about culture and the example you set. If you teach leadership, you are telling others that leadership is important. In a culture where leaders are developed and recognized, people feel empowered, more open and incentivized to treat others right. All of that promotes better teamwork and collaboration, which builds trust and respect for others. This helps at many levels—within the law firm leadership structure, within individual practice groups, within specific client teams and in the relationship between lawyers and the support staff. Effective leaders cause everyone around them to raise their game. As John Adams stated, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Nurture that environment.
How do you become a great lawyer? Study one. Watch what he does. Listen to what he says. They are great because of what they do and you can become great by emulating them. But how do you choose the right role model? Consider the following when picking a mentor.
Pick someone like you. You should pick someone with whom you’re compatible, someone who shares your interests, goals and values. Your mentor is going to pursue his goals and values. If you share those interests, you’ll learn how to pursue them too.
Pick someone you like. Pick someone you can call a friend, someone you can laugh with and whose company you enjoy. If your mentor is the greatest lawyer in the world but is just as big of a jerk, you’re not going to want to be around him, much less learn from him.
Pick someone who has time. A mentor has to have time to be a mentor. Make sure you pick someone who will make time for you, who won’t see you as an imposition on his time and on his resources.
Pick someone who is committed. In addition to having time now, make sure he will have time tomorrow, and the day after that, and the month after that and the year after that. Being a mentor is a long-term commitment. It’s more than a passing fancy.
Pick someone who is senior. For a mentor to really be a mentor, he has to be someone who has been tested, someone who’s already gone through what you’re going through now and can advise you on how best to confront those challenges.
Pick someone who wants to leave a legacy. Someone who wants to be a mentor is someone who wants to leave a part of himself behind, to pass something of himself to others and in the process reach for immortality. There are lawyers who want to leave a legacy. These are the lawyers you want to seek out as mentors.
Pick someone who does what you want to do. Find a mentor who specializes in your practice area. If you want to become a great real estate lawyer, you’re not going to learn how to do that from a great litigator. To learn the ins and outs of a given practice area, to know who the players are, what to say, what to read and what to do, you need to know the person who has the answers to these questions, someone who practices in the area.
Pick someone with a sense of humor. Being a lawyer is a tough job. To do it day in and day out requires a tough skin and a good sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and at your mistakes. A good mentor can laugh at himself, not at you.
Pick a good teacher. A mentor is someone who is going to teach you how to be a good lawyer, how to be like him. It’s one thing to be a good lawyer, it’s another to explain to others how to be one.
Pick the best. Given the choice between the best salary and the best mentor, ten times out of ten pick the best mentor. Find the attorney with the best reputation, the best skills, the best character, and beg him to hire you. You want to learn from the best there is.
You’re not going to learn how to be a lawyer on your own, at least you won’t learn how to do it well. You owe it to yourself to find someone who will teach you all the forks and bends in the road and who will walk down that road with you until it’s time for you to walk on your own.
Everybody talks about mentoring these days. Firms have mentoring programs. Bar associations have them. And they come in all forms, including e-mentoring. But do they work? Why, you ask, do you need a mentor? The better question is how you’ve survived without one. What are the benefits of having a mentor? The following are a few.
You get to learn from others’ mistakes. As a young lawyer, you’re going to make your share of mistakes. Sometimes, the fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing. How do you avoid making them? Talk to a mentor who has made them and learn from his mistakes. In the practice of law, there are many potholes to fall into. Your mentor can help you steer clear of them.
Mentors take the mystery out of it. Countless times each day you will be called upon to make decisions. Sometimes, you’ll know what to do. Many times, you won’t. Usually, your mentor will. Mentors can take the mystery out of what to do and what not to do. You get advice that works. Mentors can tell you what they did when confronted with the same problem. They have tested their theories, and they can tell you first hand, from their own experiences, what works and what does not.
You know someone has your back. Being a lawyer can be lonely. Sometimes you feel it’s you against the world – against the opposing party, against opposing counsel and sometimes against your own client. It’s good to have someone looking out for you, watching your back.
You learn the rules of the game. There are a lot of rules that come with being a lawyer, most unwritten. How do you find out what these rules are and how to play by them? You learn from someone who already knows them. A mentor can teach you the rules regarding such things as how to argue a motion or how to deal with opposing counsel, and he can help you comply with these rules rather than accidentally trip over them. You have a sounding board.
As young lawyers, you have a lot of questions that need to be answered. You have conflicts to resolve, problems to face and issues to address. You have ideas, sometimes based on fact, sometimes based purely on instinct, on how to confront these issues. Instead of simply trying out our hypotheses, to see if they are right or wrong, it is worthwhile to sound them off someone who has confronted the same or similar issues and can listen to your approaches, help you weigh the pros and cons and assist you in making thoughtful, rationed decisions.
You get a backstage pass. Mentors pull back the curtain and take you where the action happens. They take you to meetings with clients, conference calls to discuss strategy and access to their own thinking and reasoning. Mentors give you access to their legal worlds, where the big decision makers make the big decisions, and you’re their to witness it, experience it, learn from it.
You get connected. Mentors can help you get plugged into bar and trade associations. They can introduce you to people, get you involved in committees and assist you in your ascendancy to power.
You learn about the Firm. You want to know how your firm works – how it really works? Who does what, who expects what, what makes the partners happy and what their pet peeves are? Your mentor, someone who has been at the firm and who has seen first hand what kind of lawyers stay and which ones go, and of those who stay, which ones prosper, can provide you great insight on how to get along in the firm.
You learn how to network. To develop clients, you must develop relationships with potential clients. Before you can develop a relationship with someone, you have to meet him. How do you do that? Do you go to a trade group or bar meeting and simply walk around, stick your hand out and say hello to whomever you see? A much better approach is to go with a mentor, someone who knows that organization and the people involved. Someone who can introduce you to others and that can help you get your foot in the door.
These are just a few reasons to get a mentor. Mentors help you cut through the red tape, the self-doubt and your innumerable questions. Take the time to find a mentor and start working on a relationship that will affect, for the better, the rest of your career.