advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

How would you punctuate the following?

Former Minneapolis Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin and two colleagues J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane have been charged with multiple offences in connection with the death of George Floyd.

No points for saying there should be a comma after Minneapolis; that’s too obvious.

Demerit points for suggesting there should be commas on either side of Derek Chauvin; there are multiple (former) Minneapolis cops, so the commas would be wrong, because they’d suggest Chauvin is the only one in that category.

Points for a comma after colleagues and one after Lane; you need these to define the two specific colleagues in question.

Bonus points for putting a comma after Minnesota — although I suspect it is more common now not to do that. Doesn’t make it right, although there is some benefit in not cluttering things up with commas that may not add much. 

Thanks to John Hightower of Lanier Ford in Huntsville, Alabama, for suggesting this topic.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

It happens in French too.

A lawyer in Lyons (Lyon, to use the French spelling) complained recently on Twitter about contractual drafting like this:

Par ailleurs, si l’Acquéreur envisagé en émet le souhait, celui-ci devra avoir la possibilité de…

Translated literally, that means ‘Moreover, if the prospective Acquiror indicates its desire to do so, it must have the ability to …’

As the lawyer points out, one could simply say, L’Acquéreur pourra… (’The Acquiror may …’).

This stuff drives him (and me) dingue (crazy).

Chapeau, Quentin-Alexandre Brigaud, for the tweet!

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

Things seem to go awry when people use even slightly complicated sentence structure.

The venerable New York Times, usually a stickler for grammar (of an American variety), initially published this:

More familiar to we of the social media era is a type of …

This has since been corrected, changing that we to us (no doubt after readers harrumphed at the error).

You need an object for the preposition to, not a subject. It would be correct, of course, to write We of the social media era are more familiar with …

Someone else who ought to know better (an academic announcing his co-authored publication on Twitter), referred to So-and-so and mine’s book.

Yikes. That should be So-and-so’s and my…

And from the Saïd Business School at Oxford University on LinkedIn: It’s fantastic that Oxford are doing this with its MBA students.

In North America, we’d treat a university as a singular entity, not as a plural collective as they do in the UK, so the problem would have been averted.  

But even in North America we can lose sight of the number we’ve previously used, and something that was originally an it may turn into a they.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

Assuming we want to look as confident and professional on someone else’s computer screen as we do in person, here are a few tips for hosting or attending online meetings.

1) Ensure confidentiality and security

Not all video conferencing software provides the same security, so consider whether your meetings will require true end-to-end encryption. To avoid uninvited guests logging into your meeting and listening-in or causing disruption, require a password for entry. It’s also a good idea to use a virtual waiting room where attendees will log in and wait until they are specifically granted access by the host.

2) Check your tech

Place your camera at approximately eye-level. When speaking, look at the camera, not the screen. Use headphones to avoid audible echoes. And be sure to test any new software or equipment before logging into any meetings with others.

3) Don’t assume others know how to use the software

 If you expect to be arranging online meetings with new contacts, it’s a good idea to prepare (or download, if one already exists) a brief step-by-step walkthrough for accessing the meeting, and provide those instructions to every attendee in advance. Ensure others have backup contact info for the host, should they be unable to access the meeting.

4) Dress (and set-dress) to impress

Maintain a look consistent with how you would appear in-person. Don’t forget proper leg-ware! Use a wall or tidy shelf as a backdrop—avoid windows as they can be distracting and can blow out your lighting, making you difficult to see.

5) Prepare to share

If you will be referring to documents during the meeting, prepare in advance what you will and will not be screen-sharing. Remember to close any non-relevant windows or programs you may have running in the background, as you probably don’t want others to see the online shopping or cat videos you were looking at earlier.

6) Mute, mute, and mute

For meetings with a large number of attendees, remind everyone at the start that they should mute their microphones if they’re not speaking (and unmute when they are).

7) Summarize and memorialize, and/or record with written consent

If meeting with a client, remember to memorialize the meeting immediately after it ends, and put any instructions received or advice given into writing. In some cases, it may be helpful to record the meeting. If you intend to do so, obtain the written consent of those attending, and confirm their consent at the start of recording.

Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.


  • Research & Writing

As libraries reopen, one concern is how to deal with books that have been returned by patrons. The Australian Library and Information Association is recommending the following:

“For paper-based products, leave books untouched in a dedicated quarantine area for a 24-hour period prior to handling and recirculating. Sanitising books with liquid disinfectants can damage books and is not recommended.”

For more information on the subject, you may want to look at the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums Project.

Susannah Tredwell


  • Practice

It’s hard to believe that the COVID-19 lockdown began only three months ago. It feels like forever! And yet, many are predicting that we are just getting started. 

My tip?

Use this time for business planning. Don’t just dust off any old run-of-the-mill template, mind you. Take an honest and deeply introspective look at your future.

Whether your market has been irrevocably changed or you’re expecting things to pick up and return to normal (the new normal…), most lawyers have experienced some form of a shake up. As difficult as it may be to put a positive spin on a pandemic, this break could be treated as an opportunity to reimagine specific aspects of your practice.

Why go back to something that never really worked for you in the first place?

Instead, return to your original intentions. Why did you become a lawyer? Why did you choose this area of law? If you’re a business owner, why did you start your own firm? Which clients give you the most professional satisfaction? The best work / life balance? The highest profit margin?

Use this time to recommit to your objectives (or set new ones) and adjust your plans to support them. After all, when are you going to have a better chance to go for your goals?

Now is the time.

For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:

Also, see the following related articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


  • Research & Writing

The first horror is from a tweet by a business school which shall remain nameless (hint: it’s in London, Ontario): There is still a few spots left in our upcoming workshop. Good Lord.

Horror 2: A client of ours is looking for a real estate lawyer situate in Montana. Please. Maybe located in Montana, or just in Montana.

Horror 3: premia. No. Premiums.

Horror 4: I’m free until 10 tomorrow? I dunno, are you? #UnnecessaryQuestionMark

Horror 5: How to Make Working from Home, Work for You. For pity’s sake, lose that comma.

Horror 6: The reason why is because … Yikes. The reason is …, obvi.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

A reader asked why we call a group of lawyers who practise together a firm.

The term goes back a while.

In Italian, firma has been used since the sixteenth century to describe a commercial enterprise or business; the word also means ‘a signature’. Firmar and firmare (in Spanish and Italian, respectively) have meant ’to sign a document’ since the tenth century. All are derived from the post-classical Latin firmare (’to sign or ratify’).

English borrowed firm in the signature sense by the 1570s. By the eighteenth century, it had come to mean, by extension, the name under which a commercial enterprise transacts business, and also an association of two or more people in business together — what we would now call a partnership. Over time, it came to mean any kind of business or company, although for lawyers the partnership aspect has remained.

Since the early twentieth century, The Firm has been a colloquial term for the Royal Family; and since the 1950s for MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency.

The adjective firm, meaning ‘solid or steady’ (as in a firm offer or firm handshake) comes from a related Latin root: firmus (‘firm, solid or stable’).

One needs a steady hand when signing on behalf of a law partnership. 

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

As long as we don’t call it that, though. (In part because Let’s get phygital may conjure up images of Olivia Newton-John in a headband for those of a certain age.)

Phygital is a newish (and unlovely) term for communication or connection that combines the physical and the digital. It comes from the world of marketing and sales.

If you are hosting a virtual breakfast or happy hour for the summer students in your office using a digital platform, you can make it (ugh) phygital by sending participants all the food and drink they need to have an experience that feels a least a bit more like being in the same room with everyone else.

But phygital? Please, no. Just send the cereal or the ready-made Negronis and try to have a good time.

(Thanks to Chris Graham of for drawing my attention to a word he finds equally unfortunate.)

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

Many people have spent the last three months working from home. While most librarians had experience providing services to clients who were working remotely, it was a different situation when it came to being the ones who were working remotely. When you’re used to working in a physical library, moving to providing services entirely online presents a challenge, since a number of resources are still not available online.

I am sure that there are many people who can make helpful additions to this list, but this is what worked for us during the shift to providing all library services digitally:

  1. Prepare. When it started to look likely that we would be moving to working from home, my department did a run through to confirm what we could access from home. For example, some of our resources require IP authentication, so we made sure that our home IP addresses were added to the list of approved IP addresses. 
  2. Talk to your IT department. IT deals with remote users every day and they can provide solutions that you would not have thought of (or can do it faster and more effectively than you would have). For example, my IT department forwarded my work phone to my cell phone so I didn’t need to worry about updating people about how to reach me. (One downside to this: getting a phone call at 6:45 in the morning from a vendor who had forgotten that BC is in a different time zone.)
  3. Talk to your vendors about what they can do to help. For example, some of our vendors have temporarily provided electronic copies of materials that we own in print but not electronically. (This was very much appreciated.)
  4. Look at what can be digitized or is already available online. We were in the middle of a digitization project at the point where we moved to work from home. While there were a number of things that we could not digitize for legal or practical reasons, it was helpful having those items that we had already digitized easily available.
  5. Take print items home. We took home some of the key books that weren’t available electronically so we could consult them as needed. (Others had already been liberated.) 
  6. Make sure your catalogue reflects what is available online. We’ve also added links in our catalogue to materials housed elsewhere (for example in the Government of Canada Publications database).
  7. Have multiple entry points for materials to make it as easy as possible for users to find them (e.g. we have links on our intranet and in our catalogue and, in some cases, in quick start guides.)
  8. Talk to your colleagues at other institutions. Librarians and information professionals in the legal industry are always willing to suggest solutions and resources that you might not have thought of.

Susannah Tredwell