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

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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

Did you know that the Gallop Portal (Government and Legislative Libraries Online Publications Portal) provides free and convenient access to almost 500,000 electronic government publications from all levels of Canadian government?

Launched five year ago by the Association of Parliamentary Libraries in Canada (APLIC), the portal is intended to provide Canadians with an easy way to access, connect, and interact with Canadian government resources.  Canadian Legislative and Parliamentary libraries are mandated to provide access to government documents by the Federal government’s Depository Services Program.

APLIC describes the portal as a “one-stop access point” to government publications.  Users can search for documents across jurisdiction and language using a variety of filtering options and a straightforward search interface.  The portal provides particularly high ease of use compared to other Canadian government websites.

We encourage you to check the Gallop Portal out at gallopportal.ca.

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

  • Technology

Do you have two or more email addresses? Tired of flipping between web pages to check them all? Why bother. Instead, set them all up in one email client.

Here’s what this looks like on my computer.

When I click “Inbox” I can see all inbox messages from the six accounts listed here. To focus on the contents of just one inbox, I click the name of that inbox.

Given how much time people still spend on email, this tactic ought to help save time. Also, I can file all my email in my own folders, offline, by having them come into a mail client.

The screen shot above shows how this looks in Mac Mail.app, but most email software lets you do this. I have this set up on my Mac, iPad and iPod Touch. (I don’t do this on my phone – long story – but I likely will when I eventually spring for an iPhone.) I could also create this setup in Microsoft Outlook and other email software.

There are other ways of doing this. For instance, you can have all email accounts but one forward messages to the one you want to use. The only shortcoming is that you would need to sign in to another address to reply from that address, if the original email wasn’t sent to your “main” address. (Switching addresses in software like Mac Mail is as easy as choosing the “from” address from a drop list.)

That said, email forwarding is a great way of keeping messages coming from addresses you eventually want to get rid of. Soon enough, the only messages going to that address will be spam.

Do you use multiple email addresses? How do you keep track of correspondence in each of them? Let us know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

  • Practice

I would hazard a guess that one of the very first things you do when you sit down at the office is check emails. Of the 5, 10, 50, or 100 emails you are reviewing, are any of them urgent? I suspect you already know what absolutely must be done on any given day. And if something is absolutely urgent, there’s a good chance your client has called you about it already. My tip here is to set aside a time (or times) to check your emails – and that time doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning. I’ve written about decision fatigue before, the cognitive bias that you have a limited tank of decisions per day. You may want to make sure your most important decisions are made at the beginning of the day while your tank is full. A better strategy is to get to work on the most important task of the day, or, as they say, “eat the frog”.

Suppose in the middle of the day you are working on a big memo, deep in thought. You notice a slight change in the background – you have a new email! You click over and start reading it. You have to make several decisions: is the email urgent, it is important, where to file it, what to do with it, when to do it. That’s a lot of decisions for each and every email. Studies have found that after an interruption it takes about 20 minutes to return to the same state of concentration and focus you had before.

With emails constantly coming in and interrupting your work day (let alone when you are not working!), turn off your notifications and stop the interruptions. Then take control of your emails by only looking at them at set times.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

  • Research & Writing

In the distant past, lawyers used to send printed client updates by mail. Those days are long gone. Then came e-mail, rapidly reaching the saturation point.

You don’t want to clog up your clients’ email in-boxes more than you need to, so push things their way through a brief and punchy blog post.

Blog posts can be published on your firm’s public website and also distributed to a phenomenally big audience through aggregators of online content like Lexology, Mondaq and JD Supra.

Novice blogger? Fear not: here are some tips.

Don’t write about the law; write about how the law affects the people you serve

  • Why should the reader care about this information?

A good way to think about blog writing is to consider it a proxy for speaking

  •  If you were asked about a particular topic in an elevator, what would you tell the person in 30 seconds?

To be engaging, your blog post should do some or all of the following:

  • educate, inspire or entertain
  • not be boring – no one wants a tedious and overly technical piece with dozens of footnotes
  • have a specific client (or type of client) in mind
  • share and initiate a conversation
  • introduce why the reader should read the post (online content is judged largely by its headline, especially when readers usually see a list of headlines in their feeds)
  • provide quick, practical information on how the content affects the reader
  • make the reader want to ask you for further information

Blog-writing is a way of sharing your personality

Additional resources to help you:

Next: euphemisms

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Research & Writing

The 9th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (better known as the McGill Guide) was published earlier this summer. The most important change was no longer requiring a parallel citation in addition to a neutral citation. While the guide tends to be the default for Canadian citation, several courts have slightly different citation requirements:

Susannah Tredwell

 

  • Technology

Imagine if your email system could look like this at the end of your day (presuming your inbox is empty):

This is more likely to happen if email lands in the right folder without you having to triage it from your inbox. Dealing with each message in the order it was received in your inbox can lead to context switching — a major drag on productivity. The time spent doing triage can instead be used to handle business email.

To minimize email triage time, build these five email habits:

1. Set Up Folders in a Logical Manner

Having folders scattered all over means you mix contexts. And that makes you less able to target the messages that matter. Here’s how I set up my work email folders (and document folders, for that matter):

2. Put “Tags” in Email Subject Lines

Include the matter name or number in the subject line of each email you send. Use this habit for things outside client matters, too. You’ll understand why this is important when you read the next habit.

3. Create Rules to Automate the Filing of Incoming Messages

Rules are automatic actions your email program performs when triggered by criteria or conditions you have specified for incoming or outgoing messages. Email rules can be based on many criteria. Here’s a list from Mac Mail. The options in Microsoft Outlook and other email software are much the same.

Here’s the Mac Mail list of actions the software can take when a message meets defined criteria. Again, other email systems feature similar lists.

All these options might make email rule creation seem daunting. It isn’t. Here’s the type of rule I suggest you set up:

If Subject Line contains “Project 1” move message to folder “Project 1.”

That’s it.

This rule works reliably well since few people bother to change subject lines during email correspondence. On the few occasions that correspondents do change the subject line and remove the “trigger text,” the email lands in your inbox. Get automatic filing back on track by changing the subject line when you reply.

By the way, each email rule needs a name. In this case, name the rule “Project 1.”

4. Create Rules for Other Types of Emails

In the same way that you want to direct business or client email to your business or client folders, you can have your email software file newsletters, family correspondence, news about networking events and other types of messages as they come in. This won’t happen all at once, of course. You’ll need to continually train this auto-file feature. If you stick with it, though, you’ll spend less time on email triage and more time focusing on your priorities.

5. Run Email Rules on Your Sent Items Folder

Messages you write can matter just as much as those you receive. That’s why you may want to file relevant messages you’ve sent into the right folders.

Once you’ve created rules, there’s an easy way to have them take effect on sent items. Go to the Sent items folder, select all messages, right-click (or Control-click), and run your email rules. If you haven’t visited your sent items folders in a few years (or ever) and they’ve piled up, sit back and let the process chug along. Once it’s done, your email will be much more organized.

Prevent Inbox Busywork

These email automation habits are powerful ways to prevent inbox busywork. As you work with rules, you can explore other ways they can automate tasks you commonly perform. But what matters is that you create the rules you need as soon as the need arises.

Do you have any favorite email automation tips? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]

 

  • Research & Writing

Did you know that you can receive instant notifications every time a new case is added to CanLII simply by subscribing to an RSS feed?  Would you like to monitor all new decisions from a particular level of court or administrative tribunal?  An RSS feed can do that for you.

RSS feeds deliver instant updates that inform you whenever a website is updated.  In CanLII’s case, they will alert you whenever a new decision is posted.

Our colleagues at the Law Society of Manitoba Library have put together an excellent guide that describes how to Create an Alert with CanLII.

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

  • Technology

Each time an electronic document comes into being, metadata is created along with it. People often add their own, too. From the obvious (like page numbers) to the obscure (like dates of creation and author names), every piece of metadata serves some purpose.

During discovery, document metadata can prove just as important as the visible contents in the document. That’s why legal teams need to comb every document for metadata. (It’s also why many use metadata “scrubbers” on documents they share with other people.)

Things can get interesting when one legal team unwittingly sends documents to opposing counsel that contain metadata they weren’t aware of. The following tips cover some of the most common “accidental” metadata disclosures. These types of disclosures don’t always happen, but they’re worth checking for in files. And if you find such metadata, disclose your finds to opposing counsel. (Be sure to check for related ethics guidance in your jurisdiction; the American Bar Association has a handy resource for checking state metadata ethics opinions here.)

Turn on Track Changes in Microsoft Office Documents

Modern document revision often happens in the margins. Well, the right margin of Word documents. That’s where authors place comments and questions, each one labeled with their Office user ID. (The “Track Changes” feature can be called different things and be in different places in other types of documents.)

When authors choose to view a document in its “final” form, that margin and its notes disappear. Doing so means they might forget to get rid of Track Changes content before sending the document on to others. If that happens, that document will travel with all commentary and suggested additions and deletions. These threads can reveal deeper thinking behind a given document and offer hints to a legal team that wasn’t supposed to see those threads.

Check Document Properties

Ever wonder who the actual author of a document happens to be? How about when the document was created? If you’re checking a photo, was it ever opened using Photoshop? You can learn all this and more by checking a document’s properties.

Look for Hidden Rows and Columns in Spreadsheets

Sometimes an author will hide rows or columns to conceal information they contain. You won’t know until you unhide them.

Spotting hidden columns or rows should be straightforward. For instance, if one column is labeled F and the next one you see is J, that means three columns have been hidden.

Check Document Headers and Footers

From author names to Bates stamps to file paths, headers and footers can contain plenty of useful information.

For instance, sometimes authors redact documents by “cutting” them down once they reach the PDF stage. You may be holding a four-page document that says, in the bottom-right corner, “Page 7 of 19.” If you see something like this, you should go “hmm …”

Look for Speaker’s Notes in PowerPoint Documents

Sometimes presentation files contain entire scripts on crammed slides in fonts only bald eagles could read. And sometimes content is kept to a minimum, interspersed with tastefully chosen images that engage the audience.

That’s what the audience sees. What the audience doesn’t see is any speaker’s notes created in the spot reserved for such notes with each slide. Short of a video or audio recording of the presentation, this user-generated metadata may provide the most insight available into what was said.

Does a PDF Contain Redacted Parts?

If you receive a redacted PDF, try this:

  • Select and copy redacted bits.
  • Paste them into a text editor like Notepad, TextEdit or Microsoft Word.

If you don’t see anything “under” the redacted parts, the PDF’s creator knows how to redact a PDF properly.

But if all the creator did was draw black lines on top of the material to be redacted, those black lines don’t carry over when the material is pasted into a text editor. Who knows what fun stuff you might learn?

Mining for More

Expect disclosures such as the ones outlined here to become less frequent as more lawyers learn how to prevent them. That said, they haven’t all learned yet, so the above tips are certainly worth trying whenever you review electronic documents during discovery.

These aren’t the only ways to look for valuable metadata in documents. Did I neglect to mention your favorite tactics? Share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]

 

  • Practice

Who?

Who could help me with this?

One of the biggest mistakes a lawyer can make is not asking for help.

Help can mean many things.

It can mean getting advice on a file. Many lawyers the mistake of going it alone, only to realize too late that turning to another lawyer for guidance would be the best course of action.

Help can be about forming a relationship with a senior lawyer in your practice area for support and guidance. I recently connected a junior lawyer seeking to develop a new practice area with a senior lawyer from a small firm. They are writing articles together now, and the senior lawyer is providing some valuable mentorship.

Sometimes help is getting external support on a practice challenge.  It might be that you want to improve work efficiency, or you want to get better at business development, or you are wondering if it is time to make a transition to a different firm or practice. Whatever the challenge, getting confidential assistance is the quickest path forward.  The Law Society practice advisors are there to answer your questions, and there are specialized lawyer coaches available to provide guidance.

Don’t go it alone. Whether it is simple advice on how to deal with managing clients expectations or a complex practice challenge, don’t take too long to get help. I frequently hear – I wish I had contacted you sooner – and I never hear I wish I hadn’t asked for help.

Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)

 

  • Research & Writing

The latest in a continuing series.

Next time: guidance for the reluctant legal blogger

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)