Category: People skills

Client developmentClient relationshipsCollaborationin-house counselLaw firm management

#InHouseTwitter

In-house counsel and anyone who works with them—such as, say, outside counsel—will be interested in the new hashtag, #InHouseTwitter, started this summer by @J_Dot_J. J.J.’s Twitter bio tells us she is an “employment/cyber-security lawyer, mom to a 2-boy wrecking crew, endorsed as ‘not half bad.'” She has shared some pithy—sometimes salty—advice from her in-house perspective and prompted an honest and growing discussion from other in-house counsel as well.

#InHouseTwitter is active at 4 p.m. Central on Thursdays. Follow the hashtag for announcements of upcoming topics. Most recently J.J. prompted a long thread on relationships with outside counsel:

The responses varied from the positive…

….to the negative

with many nuanced observations and anecdotes in between.

InterviewsLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal educationNon-verbal communication

Non-Verbal Persuasion

This guest post summarizes the authors’ presentation, “Beyond Words: What Business Schools Can Teach Us About Non-Verbal Persuasion” at last week’s Association of Legal Writing Directors Biennial Conference held at the University of Minnesota Law School.

By Erin Carroll, Georgetown Law, and Shana Carroll, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

The practice of law places great emphasis on words. Yet, how we communicate transcends words. Studies confirm that when we (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) speak, our tone, volume, pace, stance, gestures, and expression may convey more to our listeners than the words we use.

carroll-profile-200-287Most law schools teach oral presentation skills during the 1L year in the context of the appellate argument or the meeting with the supervising attorney. But often these skills are afterthoughts to a focus on written work. And even in teaching these skills, professors may unduly home in on the substance of arguments rather than on the way they are delivered and how listeners receive them.

Given the realities of legal practice, law schools would do well to conceptualize presentation skills more broadly. Law professors should consider the range of situations in which students will present and how those presentations could be more effective, putting aside their substance.

Business schools can serve as a model. Business school curriculums generally recognize that innumerable interactions in the working world are indeed presentations. Pitching clients, negotiating deals, running an effective meeting, and reviewing employees, for example, qualify. They all offer opportunities for speakers to consider and shape how they want the listener to understand their message.

Carroll_Shana

This is no less true for lawyers. Lawyers—at least those in the private sector—are also businesspeople, bringing in clients, doing deals, and interacting with colleagues. Public sector lawyers, too, negotiate, interview, and supervise. Interactions that fall into any of these broad categories can be bettered by adroit presentation skills.

Accordingly, we urge our business and law school students to think about how they can use their voices and their body language to drive home their intended meaning. That means focusing on volume, pace, tone, emphasis, stance, and an array of other paralinguistics (the qualities of how something is said rather than what is said) as well as gestures and expressions.

First, to familiarize our students with the multitude of means by which we communicate to our listeners, we have done the following exercises:

  • Ask students to find a video of a speaker they find particularly effective or ineffective. Have them post the video to a discussion board along with a description of why that speaker was effective or not. To the extent a student’s description is generic, press the student to substantiate it by indicating particular paralinguistic qualities or aspects of body language.
  • Alternatively, have students watch a video in class, identify these qualities, and discuss them. We have used this video of the 1992 presidential debate between Bill Clinton and George Bush, and this video of a press conference given by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP, just weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

For either exercise, create a list of the different paralinguistic qualities and aspects of body language that can impact meaning. These could include: volume, pace, inflection, facial expression, movement, and fluidity. Professors might also discuss the importance of congruence between body language, paralinguistics, and message in conveying meaning.

In our classes, once students have some comfort with identifying and critiquing the presentation skills of others, we give them the opportunity to experiment. Here are a couple of things we suggest:

  • Start with a quick, kinesthetic exercise that gets students to hear the range of sentiment their voices can convey and see how their body language can impact meaning. We accomplish this by asking students to pretend they are ordering a ham sandwich. Students line up around the perimeter of the classroom and one by one come up to a podium at the front. Once they get there, we shout out a descriptive word like “despondent,” “angry,” “elated,” or “frustrated.” Students must then try to express that emotion when they say the following sentence: “I would like a ham sandwich with the works.” All sorts of sentences could be substituted here, but we like that this exercise uses something that feels a bit silly as a means of easing nerves.
  • Students are then ready to try out those same skills in a more serious scenario. Pass out slips of paper that include a couple of sentences that students might actually say in an upcoming presentation. For example, if oral arguments are approaching, short excerpts from student briefs could be used. Once students have their “script,” they get a couple of minutes to prepare to present it. During that time, students can think about what meaning they want to convey to the listener and how they can use volume, pace, tone, emphasis, gestures (and any other skills the class has discussed) to best do it. Students could be encouraged to experiment with different variations to identify which approach works best given their objective. They could also be placed in pairs or small groups and allowed to practice and get feedback from one another. Students could then be asked to volunteer to share their version with the class.

Of course, there are many, many other exercises that emphasize paralinguistic and nonverbal communication skills. These could include, for example, exercises on articulation or stance. What will be most helpful depends, of course, on the students’ and professors’ goals.

Regardless, law professors should keep in mind just how broad presentation skills are, how often students will use them in practice, and the variety of ways to teach them. We want to ensure that we are helping students improve their ability to persuade beyond simply teaching them to make a well-reasoned argument.

 

DiversityEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborInclusionLaw school

Listening begets listening

Thanks to Professors Alexa Chew and O.J. Salinas for their guest post below on fostering an open dialogue on diversity and inclusion in law schools. They will be presenting on these issues this week at the Association of Legal Writing Directors’ 2017 conference.

Law schools throughout the country continue to face issues related to diversity and inclusion. Students may feel unwelcome or marginalized at their law schools, and these feelings can impact their academic performance. This isn’t news, and most people want to foster a more inclusive law school environment.

chewBut what might be news are the details of these students’ individual experiences or the scope of these negative experiences within a student body. This matters because a precursor to making a law school more inclusive is understanding how students are feeling excluded. It also matters because if you’re not hearing those details, you might think that your school doesn’t have an inclusion problem. Or worse, you might be unknowingly contributing to it.

Whether you know it or not, your school probably does have an inclusion problem.

There is likely a group of faculty and staff at your school who know this well because they hear more than their share of students’ unhappy stories. Being one of those “go-to” folks is a blessing and a burden. It is a gift to be trusted with the intimate details of someone’s misery, to be present with another person’s vulnerability, to hear things before they need to be shouted. But it can also take an emotional toll on the listener. This is especially true when the student’s experience overlaps with the listener’s—for example because both are racial minorities or the first in their family to attend college.

A thing about burdens, though, is they get lighter when more people take them on. Not only that, but sharing burdens builds community.

salinasResearch suggests that the differences or misunderstandings that divide us can be lessened when we speak to each other and get to know each other a little more. Inviting students to share their stories and listening to those stories can improve those students’ well-being, especially if they feel that they haven’t been listened to in the past.

Here are some ideas for helping to invite these conversations:

  • In an individual conference or office hours, you might ask a student open-ended questions about how school is going. Listen to the answers non-judgmentally. Observe the student’s body language. Put on your lawyer hat and ask follow-up questions based on what you’ve heard and seen. (But remember it’s not an interrogation!)
  • In class, you could share a personal anecdote that suggests you have some experience with feeling like you don’t fit in. Explain that it’s common for law students to feel like they don’t belong. The reasons might be diverse, but the feeling of being an outsider is shared. This common ground can form the foundation for further conversation.
  • In class, you could issue a more explicit invitation to students–let them know that you are genuinely interested in their law school experience. Let them know that they can feel free to talk with you about non-academic concerns. (But be aware of reporting requirements at your institution. If you get the sense that a student might want to disclose information that must be reported, for example to your institution’s Title IX office, you’ll need to stop the conversation and advise the student of your duty to report certain information. This might be welcome news to the student, or it might not. The student can then make an informed choice about what else to share with you.)
  • Host a forum where students share their stories related to diversity and inclusion. A physical forum can foster real-time dialogue about students’ experiences and potential actions to address their concerns. The presence of faculty, staff, and administrators at a forum can expand the conversation by signaling that these issues matter and should be taken up by the whole community.

As readers of this blog surely know:

Listening begets listening—the more you practice, the better you get.

When it comes to conversations about diversity and inclusion, you might be afraid of saying the wrong thing. That’s a reasonable fear, and we’ve both said the wrong things during these conversations. It doesn’t feel great. But sometimes there isn’t a right thing to say. Sometimes the best you can offer is your time, your attention, and your ear.

If you are attending the ALWD Conference this week, we invite you to attend our session on Wednesday afternoon at 2 pm, where we will be hosting a conversation about these issues. The 2017 ALWD Conference is dedicated to discussions surrounding diversity and inclusion, as reflected by its theme: Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us.

Thanks again to Alexa Chew and O.J. Salinas of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:

Alexa Chew is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at UNC Law. You can also find her on twitter at @aznchew.

O.J. Salinas is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at UNC Law. You can also find him on twitter at @ojsalinas.

 

Client relationshipsCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborGender

Emotions in writing

Listening and speaking can be empathetic. Even reading (reading literary fiction, that is) is connected with empathy. But what about writing? And specifically, what about legal writing? The textbooks concur that writers are supposed to harness not only logos and ethos but also pathos in their appellate briefs and other persuasive writing. But what about the pathos—the emotion—in everyday legal writing?

Ever since learning about IBM’s Watson Tone Analyzer, I’ve wanted to try it on some legal writing. I wanted to find out what a “robot” like Watson has to say about the voice and emotions in contrasting legal-writing samples. Here’s what Watson can do:

The [Watson Tone Analyzer] service uses linguistic analysis to detect and interpret emotions, social tendencies, and language style cues found in text. Tones detected within the General Purpose Endpoint include joy, fear, sadness, anger, disgust, analytical, confident, tentative, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional range.

As shown below, Watson offers an overall document-level analysis, and it highlights sentences that score particularly high on certain emotional indicators.

For this exploration, I chose the idea of an email sample because emails should be relatively short. Also, email is so prevalent in law practice. It’s a constant, quotidian part of life for many, many lawyers. Email doesn’t stop to ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” It just arrives. And it can have a major impact on the emotions of the recipient. “”When it comes to emails that are negative in tone, it makes you angry,” Professor Marcus Butts told Time Magazine, in an article about why email puts workers in a nasty mood—especially when checking email after normal business hours. The effect of such emails spills over: “Being angry takes a lot of focus and our resources and it keeps us from being engaged with other things.”

Given email’s potential emotional impact on the daily lives of lawyers, this post explores what the Watson Tone Analyzer had to say about two mocked-up emails. The two versions below both have the purpose of forwarding discovery requests to a client. The first version uses more formal language, and the second more conversational language. What does the Tone Analyzer say about these different versions? And in a more realistic situation, could the Tone Analyzer be useful to lawyers working on their communication skills? Following the text of the two emails, the post compares and contrasts how the Watson Tone Analyzer processed these emails.


Dear Ms. Smith,

Enclosed please find the Request for Production of Documents received yesterday (December 16, 2016) (“the Requests”) in the Acme v. Client matter. The Requests entail 136 different items, comprising five basic categories:

(1) foundational corporate documents for Acme;

(2) documents related to negotiation of the lease in question between Acme and Client;

(3) calendar items and email sent and received by three key employees during the negotiations, Jane Doe, John Smith, and Jamal Jones;

(4) documents related to discussions with Third Party Industrial; and(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

After reviewing these Requests, please respond providing a convenient time next week for a phone conference to review them and discuss response strategies.

Sincerely,

Antoine Associate

Antoine J. Associate

Law Firm LLP

Citytown, RH

 


Dear Janel,

This message follows up on discovery in Acme v. Client. Yesterday we received another round of document requests. I’d like to set up a call with you next week to discuss them after you’ve had a chance to review them.

There were 136 individual requests, which are enclosed with this e-mail. The requests fall into five basic categories:

(1) foundational corporate documents for Acme

(2) documents related to the lease negotiation between Acme and Client

(3) calendar items and email sent and received by three key employees during the negotiations, Jane Doe, John Smith, and Jamal Jones

(4) documents related to discussions with Third Party Industrial

(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

Please take a look at the requests and then let me know when would be best for you to discuss them next week.

Many thanks,

Antoine

Antoine J. Associate

Law Firm LLP

Citytown, RH


So how did Watson analyze the emotions in these two messages?

Tone Analysis of First Sample:

The dominant emotion in this message was perceived as anger. Indications of disgust, fear, joy, and sadness were “unlikely.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.55.55 PM

The sentence-level analysis indicates that the anger emanates from plain, descriptive language (what the requests entail) and the final request (“please respond…”). The pink highlighted sentences below were flagged as moderately angry wording:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.58.10 PM

The language in this message was viewed as both analytical and confident, but not tentative. The analytical content is highlighted here in blue, with the dark blue being more intensely analytical than the light blue:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.59.25 PM

 

Interestingly, the confidence score appears to come solely from the signature block containing the words “Law Firm.” (The same is true of the second sample, where “Law Firm” were also the only text flagged for confidence. But the second sample’s overall confidence score at the document level is 0.00 (unlikely) compared with .63 (likely) for this first sample. More on that later.)
Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.00.35 PM

The same text can be studied in more depth for its social tendencies including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional range. For example, the language “Enclosed please find” was ranked as conscientious but not open, extraverted, or agreeable.  That language also scored high on emotional range. That same language was also flagged for showing anger.

Among the five items in the email’s numbered list of documents, item (3) seemed to be an emotional hot spot for Watson, scoring relatively high on all five of the emotional parameters. This result was notable because item (3) is the only item in the list that included individual people’s full names.

Here are the metrics for agreeableness, which form an interesting contrast with the second sample below. The greeting and sign-off are in light green, indicating moderate agreeableness. The only line with strong agreeableness was that same item (3) listing calendar items and emails sent by specific individuals by name. (In contrast, the second sample below tried to be friendlier and succeeded, as indicated by the more strongly agreeable opening and closing passages.)

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.05.01 PM

Tone Analysis of Second Sample

The second email was meant to be more friendly. What it accomplished, according to Watson, was slightly lessening the anger score and raising the joy score. The joy score is still “unlikely,” but it’s at .49 instead of 0.18 in the first sample. Although it’s less angry and more joyful, it also completely lost its confidence score.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.05.46 PM

Despite the overall attempt to use friendlier language, anger still emanated from the email, specifically the sentence enclosing the discovery requests:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.07.41 PM

But joy came from the revised beginning and closing words:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.08.32 PMThe message did not rank on sadness, fearfulness, or disgust.

Watson’s evaluation of the language looks for analytical, confident, and tentative language. The more informal email’s language was also measured as analytical and confident, like the more formal first sample. Unlike the formal sample, it was also somewhat tentative. The source of this tentativeness was a sentence about what the writer “would like to do”:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.10.19 PM

Not surprisingly, that same sentence was also ranked as agreeable:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.11.12 PM

Quantitatively, the informal sample contained more agreeable language, ranking 0.89 on agreeableness compared to 0.67 for the first sample.

Conclusion

What did I conclude from analyzing these two samples using Watson’s Tone Analyzer? Like many AI analysis, it seemed to confirm what I think I already know.

  1. Legal information is not inherently happy, at least not in a litigation setting. The most “angry” language in both messages was the language simply describing the scope of discovery.
  2. Language that is more tentative and less confident may also be more agreeable. This correlation raises many questions: does tentative language compromise clarity? If so is it worth it to sound more agreeable? Different writers, readers, and situations will of course require different decisions.
  3. Watson’s Tone Analzyer may be helpful to some writers on a limited basis. As with any computer analysis of language such as Flesch-Kincaid readability scores, writers should ask whether the computer analysis could help them. I don’t see legal writers building Watson’s Tone Analyzer into a checklist for every email. But it could be a worthwhile exercise just on a couple of messages, to see what predominant tone Watson diagnoses.

And as with any computer analysis of language, take it with a grain of salt. I tested Watson on litigators’ favorite nastygram conclusion:

“Govern yourselves accordingly.”

The results are below but here’s a summary: Its predominant language was sadness (?????). Its most notable social tendencies, according to the Tone Analyzer, were extraversion and agreeableness.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.28.57 PM

The “govern yourselves accordingly” analysis notwithstanding, a “robot” such as the Tone Analyzer could create an interesting exercise for trying different words and seeing how they measure. So . . . govern yourselves accordingly.

Note on use of Watson: these screen shots were taken on April 25 and 26, 2017. The metrics appear to have changed slightly from tests about six months earlier on identical language. Thus a final lesson is to know your tool and stay updated. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples if relying on quantitative analysis of language. 

Emotional intelligenceMentoringPeople skillsProfessional developmentSmartphones

Summer-associate advice

When I speak to summer associates, I always tell them they have two jobs:

  1. do great work and gain as many opportunities as possible within the employer’s organization, should they end up working there; and
  2. study the employer, lawyers and staff, and the overall culture to discern if it’s a good fit for them.

Listening will help with both of these jobs.

As far as doing great work, summer associates should start using their listening skills before the job starts. Use social media to “listen” (in the sense of monitoring) to what the employer is saying to the public. What topics seem to be interesting? Who’s writing? What tone do the lawyers use in their publications and social-media content? What personality do they project?

Summer associates should also talk to mentors about how to do a good job as a summer associate generally, and (from mentors within the organization) how to do a good job in that particular setting. Ask good questions, listen, and follow up with more good questions. Listen actively and paraphrase the advice back to the mentor sharing it. Take notes later, reflecting on the advice and assimilating it even more thoroughly. Send thoughtful follow-up messages that demonstrate listening skills and reinforce the relationships being built.

Once the job starts, listening skills are crucial during any meeting to take down an assignment. Beyond the basics like expected format and deadline, the assigning meeting offers so much more for the careful listener: the supervisor’s own baseline of knowledge in the area of law, attitude toward the case, expected answer to the assignment, expected difficulty of the assignment, general areas of confidence, and general areas of perceived risk. All of this information can be highly valuable in completing an assignment at a level beyond basic law-student competence.

“Shadowing” work such as observing a deposition or negotiation may not be a true assignment, if there is no deliverable work product. But during a shadowing experience, it seems crucial to display the highest form of attentiveness. Even if an attorney working on the case displays distracted behavior such as checking email on a phone, the summer associate should not feel free to reciprocate that behavior. Buying into the myth of reciprocity—the senior lawyer checked her phone, so it was appropriate and for the summer associate to do so as well—seems like one way to make a bad impression. What’s more important to a summer associate than the valuable opportunity to observe right in front of them? Unless they have a family crisis or already on a deadline for another supervisor within the organization and can explain that to the people around them, it seems likely that nothing is more important. On a more positive note, careful listening and good follow-up questions can actively show a person’s potential as a future lawyer.

Another opportunity to listen happens during a debrief on any assignment. This is the opportunity to accept constructive criticism gracefully, i.e. non-defensively and in a manner that makes the supervisor comfortable working with that summer associate again in the future. Another lesson is that sometimes (oftentimes?) in the legal world, feedback isn’t really helpful or specific. Or it isn’t there at all. Seeking out feedback and asking good questions show a dedication to professional development and professionalism generally.

Strong listening skills during the interview are likely part of the reason a summer associate got the job in the first place. Listening skills on the job are just as crucial, and actually even more so.

Here’s another post hitting some of these same themes and delving into more detail on listening for summer associates: https://listenlikealawyer.com/2016/06/01/listening-for-summer-associates/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinical legal educationLaw schoolLegal educationLegal skillsMoot Court

Habit-forming classrooms     

How much time do law students spend in class? I’ve been thinking about the behavioral implications of so much time in front of laptop screens. I look forward to reading but don’t actually need to read Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked to know that looking at a screen is some kind of behavioral habit. And the time students spend in law-school classrooms may be feeding that habit.

Yes, some professors ban laptops. Most do not. Yes, some law students use their laptops just exactly like a yellow legal pad and quill pen, never once checking any updated social media feed during class. But most do not. So just how much time do law students spend in front of laptop screens during a typical three-year JD program?

An estimate can be derived from ABA regulations for law schools, which I learned more about at the Legal Writing Institute’s recent conference for moot court advisors helped to answer this question. ABA Standard 311 requires 83 credit hours to graduate, 64 hours of which must constitute  “attendance in regularly scheduled classroom sessions or direct faculty instruction.” The broad topic of ABA requirements came up at the moot court conference because within this 64 hours, students graduating in 2019 and after will need six hours of experiential-learning credits to graduate. Moot court advisors from Oklahoma City College of Law, Mississippi College of Law, the University of North Dakota, and Ohio State University talked about the new ABA requirement for experiential learning.

That number—64 hours—is the key to answering my question about total laptop time.

Let’s use the ABA’s numbers to assume that a student takes only 64 classroom hours to graduate and the rest of the 83 comes from extracurricular activities, externships, and other types of educational activities.

Out of the required 64, let’s further assume six of those are experiential learning in a clinic or simulation, in which students should be closing their laptops and working closely with people a substantial portion of that time.

That leaves another 58 hours of course credit in lecture and Socratic law-school classes. Let’s assume the student uses a laptop during all of that time. Is this an unrealistic assumption? I don’t think so, but you can easily adjust the math below to reach estimates for 80 percent laptop usage or 60 percent laptop usage.

If we do assume the student opens a laptop for notetaking during all of these class sessions throughout law school, what’s the total time that student’s eyeballs will be on the screen?

A credit hour is 50 minutes of classroom time per week plus two hours of preparation time (ignored for purposes of this calculation). Each semester has 15 weeks, but one of those weeks can be used for exam review and exam taking. Thus the total amount of classroom time can be calculated as follows:

50 minutes a week,

14 weeks a semester,

multiplied by 58 credit-hours.

What’s the mathematical result?

40,600 minutes

677 hours

84-and-a-half business days

That’s a lot of time with eyeballs on screens. Taking notes in a law-school lecture may not be habit-forming like Candy Crush, but it’s still a behavior. Repeat a behavior enough, and you have a habit (colloquially defined). Walk into the room, take out the laptop, pop it open and turn it on. When the professor begins to speak, direct attention to the front of the room, and start typing. Listen for a while and keep up with class, typing notes in bullet and sub-bullet form vertically down a Word or notes page of some sort. Then a thought pops up about an expected email reply. Open a tab to quickly check. Keep one ear on the professor’s words and get them down. Close the email tab and return to the notes doc. Rinse and repeat.

The 58 credit-hours of classroom time make up almost two-thirds of a student’s academic time in law school. Assuming that a student gets excellent training and practice on interviewing (including listening skills) somewhere in the other 35 credit-hours, can that training and practice overcome the weeks, days, and hours spent looking at the laptop? Of course people use different communication skills and tools in a large classroom and a one-on-one interview. But are these communication habits so easily siloed and separated? What is the leakage—if any—between classroom listening habits and professional listening habits? As Will Durant said in paraphrasing Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

This month tens of thousands of law students are shaking off their final exams and going out into the “real world” for summer work. At courts, agencies, businesses, and law firms, these personal laptops will largely be left behind. But what habits won’t be?

__

Here are just a few of many recent articles on laptops in the law-school classroom:

Kristen Murray, Let them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate over Laptops in the Classroom

James Levy, Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School

Steven Eisenstat, A Game-Changer: Assessing the Impact of the Princeton/UCLA Laptop Study on the Debate of Whether to Ban Student Use of Laptops during Class

 

 

 

GenderLegal communicationMoot CourtPeople skillsPublic speaking

“Um” and its discontents

Umm, hi everyone. Umm, does anyone want to join the Facebook discussion I’ll be moderating on Thursday, April 6 at 3 p.m. Eastern? (Note this time is corrected from some earlier messages.)? The topic is the article “The Lawyer’s Guide to Um” by professor Barbara Gotthelf in Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD. Professor Barbara Gotthelf will be joining the conversation, which is open to all lawyers, legal professionals, and law students. You just have to join the Legal Communication and Rhetoric Discussion Group on Facebook before the discussion begins.

I previously mentioned the article here on the blog and recommend the entire thing—which is a pleasure to read—as preparation for the discussion. Gotthelf does not hide the ball:

[U]sing uh and um was not only “perfectly normal,” but also helpful in furthering effective communication.

Whether you hate “um” or barely even notice it, if you’re interested in lawyering and public speaking then this conversation is of interest to you.

This Discussion Group is a project of the journal Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD and is active during scheduled discussions such as this one. This Discussion Group seeks to bring together lawyers, law professors, law students, and legal professionals generally to discuss legal writing and advocacy topics. I’m one of the Social Media Editors for Legal Communication & Rhetoric and look forward to moderating this discussion.

Client developmentClient relationshipsCollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm management

Listening to punctuation

Thanks to Julie Schrager, counsel and legal writing coach at Schiff Hardin, for this guest post. 

schrager_julie_s_bw_bio_wide-1

I have been desperately trying to find a way to write about exclamation points. I grew up in a time when they were reserved for exclamations:

“Congratulations on winning that game!”

or

“That’s the reason he got that promotion!”

Lynne Truss, the author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, calls those uses the “Yes!”  and “Ah!” meanings of exclamation points.

And I was taught—starting in high school, then in college, law school, and in my first 20+ years of legal practice—that exclamation points had no role in business communications. Nothing we wrote was considered exciting or emotional, and exclamation points were viewed as showing too much emotion.

My teachers were in good company in disliking the exclamation point.  Fiction writers for centuries had condemned the use of exclamation points in fiction-writing. Both Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald are credited with saying that using an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.

But then I started sending and receiving texts. The old exclamation point rules didn’t apply there. And now I would say the rules—at least for certain legal correspondence—have changed.

This blog is about listening like a lawyer. Lawyers listen to things judges, clients, and other lawyers say out loud. But they also “listen” to writing:  opinions from judges, emails from opposing counsel and clients, and notes from colleagues. Some people read written communications out loud, but even if we don’t, we read and “hear” them in our head.

And I don’t “hear” exclamation points as exclamations anymore. I’ve started to listen to what I read from law students and new law grads and my college-age daughter. I’ve learned that exclamation points don’t say “Yes!” or “Ah!” anymore. Instead, they say, “I hear you” or “I’m not angry” or “We are in this together” or “Our relationship is on solid ground.”

Let me explain. My job involves regular email correspondence with associates at my law firm. It’s a unique position. I work as Schiff Hardin’s legal writing coach and read and comment on written work—memos, briefs, articles, web content, blog posts, and anything else summer associates or associates write. My interactions are almost exclusively with people under 35, and most are with people between 25 and 30. Sometimes associates reach out to me to ask me to review a piece of work—and sometimes I reach out to them.

This is how it goes: at the start of every week, I send around an email to all of the associates at the firm reminding them of my existence and asking if anyone would like to work together during the week. I ask them to fight against the idea that they should be able to figure out their jobs by themselves and do not need to ask anyone for help. I ask that they embrace a “growth mindset,” which holds that abilities are not fixed in space but can be developed with perseverance and hard work.

Exclamation points play an important role in our correspondence. They help young associates and summer associates win the fight against going it alone. Sometimes I’ll get a return email letting me know that the associate is writing a blog post and would like to send it my way. Often the email either starts with “Hi Julie!” or ends with “Thanks in advance!” The message is clear:  I am putting myself out there and am interested in working together.

Listening like a lawyer means matching the tone of the person speaking to you. So I respond with exclamation points of my own: “Thanks for reaching out!” or “Sounds good!” or “My pleasure!”

And I submit that the exclamation point has a new meaning and a legitimate role in business correspondence.

CollaborationEmotional intelligenceLegal communicationLegal educationLegal writing

Silence and group work in legal education

I wasn’t able to attend the AALS (Association of American Law Schools) meeting this year—an annual gathering of thousands of law professors. As a sort of substitute, I’ve been saving an article to read from the Journal of Legal Education, the AALS’s journal on legal education, the legal profession, legal theory, and legal scholarship.

The article is A. Rachel Camp, Creating Space for Silence in Law School Collaborations (volume 65, 2016). Professor Camp co-directs the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown. Here’s an informal outline of the article:

  • the importance of collaboration to lawyers
  • the relative dearth of collaborations and (especially) thoughtfully managed collaborations in legal education
  • the problems students experience with an overly individualistic and competitive culture in law school
  • countervailing forces encouraging more collaborative work in law school
  • the difficulty of collaboration in a somewhat dichotomous world of introverts and extroverts
  • why a seemingly easy solution for collaborative work—brainstorming—produces surprisingly bad results
  • several teaching methods for effective collaboration and group work, avoiding the weakness of brainstorming and capitalizing on ideas from both extroverts and introverts
  • a clinical model of thoughtful collaboration in the Domestic Violence Clinic

Collaboration is intertwined with the skill of listening, which is what drew me to this article. And it turns out that listening can actually be part of the problem with group work as it is often practiced.

For the following scenarios (thought up by me and inspired by the article), assume the following: Professor X has just told the class, “Break into groups of three and critique this draft paragraph. Then come back to share your group’s suggested improvements.”

Scenario 1: 

Student A, B, and C start reading the paragraph. Student A reads quickly and begins to share critique before B and C have looked up from the paragraph. All three eventually share some thoughts. When it’s time to pick a group speaker, Students B and C defer to A, who paraphrases the ideas that A previously stated.

Scenario 2:

Students A, B, and C start reading the paragraph. Students A and B begin to bounce ideas off one another. Student C does not attempt to speak. When it’s time to pick a group leader, A and B decide that B can speak for the group and ask C if C is okay with that. C nods.

Scenario 3:

Students A, B, and C start reading the paragraph. Student A suggests that all three of them brainstorm as many ideas as they can, not criticizing anyone else’s idea but just adding. The group quickly agrees to this method, and Student C goes first. Students A and B then add a few follow-up ideas. When it’s time to pick a group leader, B agrees to sum up their ideas.

So which of these scenarios left students feeling the most satisfied with their brainstorming? In order from most to least satisfied, it would go like this:

Scenario 3

Scenario 2

Scenario 1

And which of these scenarios created the best ideas? In order from best to worst ideas, it would go more like this:

Scenario 1 or 2

Scenario 2 or 1

Scenario 3

Why is this? Classic brainstorming feels satisfying but produces the worst ideas. That can’t be. Actually, Camp’s article reviews the surprising results of research:

[N]early all studies have found that group brainstorming leads to lower productivity when compared with the combined productivity of . . .  individuals brainstorming in isolation.

Group brainstorming is ineffective for several reasons suggested by the scenarios above, both in the experience it creates and the results it delivers. Not that Scenario 1 or 2 above is much better. In Scenario 1, Student A might have had the best ideas but would be unlikely to get another invitation to work with Students B and C. And in Scenario 2, Student C may have had the best idea of all, but never spoke to share it.

Differences in personality and communication styles are at the core of many group problems, particularly differences in extroverts and introverts. These differences may cause conflict and even resentment of domineering group members and others considered “social loafers.” In fact, dominant group members may be working in their preferred style, and “loafers” may need time to process.

Thus the interpersonal dynamics in a group can lead to worse results from that group. The biggest weakness is “production blocking,” which means that some ideas are never generated at all or are generated but then lost:

The idea is forgotten and/or replaced while a group member is listening to others, waiting her turn to speak. . . . Listening to ideas shared by others may be distracting and interfere with the member’s independent thinking [or] determining that his idea is not relevant or original . . . .

More subtly, a person waiting her turn to speak may delay fully forming her idea until her turn arrives, by which time the idea may not be as good.

Listening contributes to another problem as well, “pluralistic ignorance.” This happens when “a vocal minority expresses an opinion or idea and the majority group members fail to speak up based on an overestimation of support for that opinion by the other group members.” Basically, someone listens to another opinion, overestimates its support, and therefore does not engage in further constructive discussion.

Camp describes how this problem is related to the “illusion of transparency” (not really a listening problem, more of a speaking and writing problem). People labor under “an erroneous perception [they] are better communicators than they actually are.”  For example, a relatively introverted member of a group may speak up, but that person’s intentions may not in fact be clear to the rest of the group, causing further frustration.

So these are a lot of problems with misunderstandings and inefficiencies in brainstorming and other group work done in intuitive yet ineffective ways. What’s the remedy?

In the law-school classroom, part of the remedy is creating a space for silence.

Camp summarizes some teaching techniques that void early blocking of ideas, and bring out a wide variety of views. Law professors reading this blog post should consult section IV of her article for detailed teaching notes on “brainwriting,” “chalk talks” “the Nominal Group Technique” and alternative brainstorming by email. They will definitely bring out the quiet students and generate a plethora of thoughtful ideas and responses.

As I was reading these ideas, I was thinking they are great for the law-school environment, but there’s not a lot of intentional silence in groups in law-practice. An introvert won’t be assigned to do any brainwriting in a team when practicing law, ensuring that his or her ideas are formed and shared. Partners and supervisors do not carefully construct chalk talks to elicit broad participation from their teams. But even if these techniques don’t translate to practice at all, creating a more inclusive environment for both introverts and extroverts can improve the isolating effects of traditional Socratic and competitive legal education. Professor Heidi K. Brown is another leading voice in this area.

And Camp acknowledges the end goal of preparing future lawyers. She argues that law schools should be teaching collaboration itself as an essential lawyering skill. For example, Camp teaches an in-class seminar on collaboration. She treats it as a skill that can be learned just like fact investigation and client counseling. Camp recounts how this seminar helps students “move past the pervasive assumption—often based on their own past, negative experiences—that collaborative relationships simply ‘are what they are,’” and, if not going well, must simply be endured. Breaking through this assumption means giving tools for better communication. Students assigned as partners examine their communication styles and discuss the results; they also anticipate conflicts in the partnership and make plans ahead of time to anticipate challenges. These seem to me like pretty good practices for any team of professionals preparing to work together.

Collaboration is certainly not a recent phenomenon for some in legal education, particularly in clinical legal education. (Camp cites a 1993 by Sue Bryant as foundational: Sue Bryant, Collaboration in Law Practice: A Satisfying and Productive Process for a Diverse Profession, 17 Vt. L. Rev. 459 (1993)). And lots of people are doing lots of active work in this area. I’ve recently read and benefited from Anne Mullins, Team-Based Learning: Innovative Pedagogy in Legal Writing, 49 U.S.F. L. Rev. Forum 53 (2015). Camp points out that collaboration is not a mandatory part of any law school curriculum. But it’s now one of the options identified by the ABA for law schools to consider when implementing the ABA’s mandate to teach the “professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.”

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As further non-legal reading on the topic of effective teamwork at work, see Charles Duhigg, What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, New York Times (Feb. 25, 2016). I’ve heard of professors assigning this article to their collaborative teams, and I’ve encouraged some teams I work with to read it as well.

 

 

Client developmentFact investigationLaw schoolLegal technologyPeople skills

Is attention personal or professional?

A law professor’s New York Times op-ed, “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom,” prompted lots of discussion on blogs and Twitter. Should law students be told and required to close their screens and (to the extent this is even possible) pay attention in class?  Or should they have the freedom to decide whether to engage in behavior that may (or may not) hurt their learning, disrespect classmates, and create a distraction?

I think a hard question here is this:

Is attention personal or professional?

 

 

If attention is personal, then the student should have the freedom to decide whether and how to use a laptop. It’s the culture of American education to wax nostalgic about daydreaming, note-writing, talking to one’s neighbor.  The teacher takes countermeasures, seizing notes and flashing the light switch on and off. But there’s something heroic about the student’s personal quest for autonomy and freedom to think and stage whisper about . . . whatever. And even more so in law school, which is a professional school for grownups who (opponents to Rosenblum’s position argue) should be able to make the decision when and how to pay attention, and when and how to take notes.

If attention is professional, then law professors have a better argument on laptops. What is a law school? I googled this question and came up with a law review conveniently titled the same, by Prof. Stephen Wizner of Yale. Granted it’s from 1989, but this still seems like a decent answer for today:

What is a law school? That is a question that ought to have a fairly straightforward answer: a law school is a professional school for the education and training of lawyers. If we know what lawyers do – or ought to do – we should be able to design a curriculum that will prepare law students to carry out that professional role in a competent, ethical, socially responsible manner.

Paying attention is part of being competent and ethical. And, I would argue, seeming to pay attention is also part of being competent—or at least part of being able to attract and retain jobs and clients. Judicial ethics rules officially sanction “the appearance of impropriety.” On a far more unofficial level and a far more pervasive scale, potential employers and clients sanction “the appearance of inattention.” They don’t give jobs to candidates who don’t seem to be listening and paying attention in an interview. They don’t return more work to an associate who doesn’t seem to be listening and paying attention when meeting with a partner. And they don’t give their legal business to lawyers and law firms who don’t seem to be listening and paying attention in a “dog and pony” show to demonstrate their desire and ability to take on a new case.

This connection of the law school classroom to what lawyers actually do is part of Professor Rosenblum’s argument for banning laptops:

Students need two skills to succeed as lawyers and as professionals: listening and communicating. We must listen with care, which requires patience, focus, eye contact and managing moments of ennui productively — perhaps by double-checking one’s notes instead of a friend’s latest Instagram. Multitasking and the mediation of screens kill empathy.

Likewise, we must communicate — in writing or in speech — with clarity and precision. The student who speaks in class learns to convey his or her points effectively because everyone else is listening. Classmates will respond with their accord or dissent. Lawyers can acquire hallmark precision only through repeated exercises of concentration. It does happen on occasion that a client loses millions of dollars over a misplaced comma or period.

The importance of these skills leads him to the following conclusion:

My students need to learn how to be lawyers and professionals. To succeed they must internalize an ethos of caution, care and respect. To instill these values and skills in my students, I have no choice but to limit laptop use in the classroom.

The reaction of the legal and broader education communities varied quite a bit, from cheers to jeers. Personally I haven’t banned laptops. I like being able to ask people to quickly look something up as part of their interaction with my writing class, and I share materials on my course site that students can download and take notes on. This is a writing class—not a pretrial lit class with interviewing skills—so listening and paying attention are an implied but not explicit part of the class goals. If I were teaching an interviewing class, listening and paying attention and not looking at a screen would be very open and transparent parts of the evaluation and grade. But I’m not, and neither is Prof. Rosenblum as best I can understand. (He mentions a stilted, unproductive discussion in his class on sexuality and the law as the catalyst for his decision to ban laptops.)

So one way to ask the question is, how much does a professor assume the responsibility of teaching and valuing soft skills relevant to students’ professional success? This is both a question of traditional professorial autonomy and preference (how much does each professor actually want to do so) and of institutional decisions (should soft skills be pervasively taught and modeled; or cabined within certain dedicated classes and domains)? For example, a career services adviser should certainly be giving a student feedback on focus and perceived attention level during a mock interview. And any student who gets distracted by a smartphone in the midst of interviewing a simulated client—or heaven forbid, a real client—should be given a bad grade.

It’s perhaps ironic for a listening blogger that my decision arguably diminishes the value of listening in my own classroom. I don’t think—I know—that paying attention and listening will help students get jobs, get better assignments, and get clients. And paying attention and listening will help them do their jobs, exceed expectations on individual assignments, and lead clients to want to give them more work. I guess I want them to have the freedom to take notes and encounter the world of information necessary for my class using their laptops—while also developing the mental agility and personal willpower to appropriately switch back and forth from computer use to personal listening. Those who can do this are more likely to thrive professionally, and those who cannot are more likely to . . . not thrive.

So there is no clean answer and thus no single approach. Attention is both personal and professional. How law professors teach and train new lawyers will continue to hover delicately over that line.