Why I Write

Flickr/Omar Wazir
Flickr/Omar Wazir

Listen Like a Lawyer received an early birthday present: an invitation from Brian Rogers, a.k.a. the Contracts Guy, to participate in this blog hop on “why I write.” The end of Listen Like a Lawyer’s first year is the perfect time for reflection. One obvious benefit of blogging has been the chance to network with folks like Brian as well as those tagged at the end of this post for the next leg of the blog hop.

What am I working on?

I’m interested how listening can improve the work product and experience of lawyers, legal professionals, and law students. There is so much to say about it: models of listening from the communication scholarship; listening and ethics; the role of listening in various areas of practice; how listening helps marketing and networking; common listening breakdowns; specific aspects of listening as a skill; listening in the law school classroom; and so on.

Right now I’m focusing particularly on listening and summer associates, since it’s that time of year. Next I will be delving into the relationship between listening and writing, in preparation for the Legal Writing Institute’s biennial meeting in Philadelphia this summer.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?

I aspire to the kind of writing that informs and entertains lawyers and other legal professionals as well as law students. This blog is only a year old and I’m still working on writing style and frequency of posting. Where my writing differs is in its specific focus on listening.

Listening plays a big role in professional success as a lawyer, yet the value and methods of listening don’t seem to get much attention in books, articles, and online content — at least when compared with the attention given to speaking and writing. Some excellent law review articles have been written about listening, and my friend Professor Tami Lefko is now writing about listening as well. Through researching the blog I have found some wonderful resources, many of which are listed in the Resources section of Listen Like a Lawyer. I’m also grateful for the guest speakers and writers (here and here) who have already contributed their thoughts. Lawyers’ enthusiastic response when they hear about Listen Like a Lawyer tells me that there is an appetite and a need for more.

Why do I write what I write?

My main goal and the biggest reason I write is a substantive one: to explore the topic of listening. From my experience as a journalist and practicing lawyer, I remember many professional successes based on part of good listening:

  • taking extensive notes on an interview, adaptable for sharing with others, with key phrases in quotations
  • observing witnesses’ revealing facial expressions and body language during depositions
  • participating in mediations and motions practice where the key to success was to “quit while you’re ahead”

And of course less successful moments where I could have listened better:

  • not picking up on what made a client angry about his situation and then ham-handedly repeating the trigger
  • interrupting a partner during lunch with a client
  • not differentiating when senior attorneys were loosely brainstorming versus when they were identifying their core strategies and priorities

I could also remember the satisfaction of working with senior attorneys who engaged with conversation with me as a junior attorney — as well as the frustration of meetings with certain senior attorneys during which their eyes would wander towards Microsoft Outlook. Was I talking too long or about the wrong things? Did they have urgent client business necessitating absolute e-mail vigilance? Or were they just addicted to their e-mail? Yes, yes, and yes. These questions are even more valid, and these tensions even more present, in today’s device-laden legal workplace.

Since leaving practice and over the past 13 years teaching legal writing, it has become apparent to me that part of students’ performance in law school is affected by their underlying skill at listening. Better listeners understand more information, catch its context, prioritize it better, and ask better questions. They also “read people” better and understand speakers’ attitudes toward their own statements with more subtlety. Thus they are more prepared for clinics, externships, and law practice.

In contrast, truly bad listeners — and most people aren’t this terrible, but here’s a worst-case scenario — don’t get all the information they need, don’t understand people’s reactions to events, don’t ask good questions, and come across as ineffectual or even rude.

And those are just the outward aspects of listening. There is also the inward aspect of effectively listening to oneself, which is closely related to emotional intelligence. Being able to hear — and manage — one’s inner voice is so important to lawyers and law students’ resilience and professional satisfaction.

On a selfish note, I write because I like to. Writing teachers think about writing so very much but often struggle for time to do their own writing. Starting a blog was a public commitment to write, kind of like signing up for a gym membership — and then posting about it on social media — as motivation to work out. So far it has been a good experience.

How does my process work?

I keep a file of ideas in Evernote, drawn from Twitter, Zite, and other sources. I have a large stack of textbooks, trade books, scholarship, and other sources that I refer to for questions and explore as time allows. I tend to write groups of several posts at a time, saving drafts and then coming back later to revise before publication.

Some posts draw more on my journalism background, like these profiles of lawyers dealing with hearing loss. Other posts are more scholarly in nature, like this exploration of cognitive bias. And sometimes I just try to be creative, like this “Tabata workout” for listening.

Please check out my blogging friends:

For the next leg of this blog hop, I’m highlighting three blogs, all by lawyers:

Lady (Legal) Writer is written by Megan Boyd, an adjunct professor of advanced legal writing at Mercer Law. Megan is smart and funny, and has fun with legal writing. Her blog shows it.

Dogs Don’t Eat Pizza is written by Karen Cooper, a lawyer and fantastic writer who is channeling her passion into the Do It Yourself community. Karen can choose a great paint chip just as easily as she chooses between “IRAC,” “TREAC,” and “CREAC.”

Connecticut Employment Lawyer is written by Daniel Schwartz. I don’t know a lot about Connecticut law, but I do know something about good writing. Exhibit A is anything Dan Schwartz writes. Twitter’s suggested follows led me to his blog, and his work impressed me so much that I asked him to for advice on some early posts from Listen Like a Lawyer. He took the time to read them and make suggestions — proving he’s a nice guy, too.








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