All Our Practice Tips
Last Night I Dreamed I Was at One of My Old Jobs. I Woke Up to Heaven.
There I was at the office, churning away, berated by my boss, being laughed at, missing meetings, leavings tasks unfinished. Everywhere my heart raced, a test around every corner. Perform or perish – I was perishing. But then the fog of sleep lifted, the grey clouds of my old job giving way to the sunshine of reality. The old job long gone, I breathed in the heaven of the here and now. Sometimes a nightmare is good for the soul.
Perhaps because I love giving advice more than taking it, I often talk to lawyers considering a career change. I have seen lawyers write out a list of all the pros and cons about their current position, do the same about another position, and compare the two. I have seen flow charts looking like Nobel prize-winning chemistry equations diagramming possibilities and priorities. I have seen lawyers meander about from story to story, soul-searching their personal histories for the holy grail of meaning. I have seen calculations measuring income adjusted for standard of living, taking into consideration the cost of health benefits, sick days, vacation days, commuting time and cost, and pension matching programs, to arrive at the best possible total compensation. But it is the rare bird who thinks about the question under the three heads of happiness: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Strong research, and now popular psychology, supports the theory that happiness correlates with your own perception of your level of independence, the quality of your relationships, and how good you think you are at what you do. Young lawyers, you may have low levels of autonomy depending on the kind of files you are working on. Do you have the patience to wait it out, gain experience, and eventually achieve autonomy as a more experienced lawyer? Can you find autonomy and satisfaction in the task assigned to you? It may well be a matter of perspective and delaying gratification. Relationships at work can vary from place to place. If you are unhappy with your friendships at work, or lack thereof, is the problem the workplace or you? Might a change of scenery affect that? Feeling competent is hard for a lawyer. Most of us are perfectionists and little mistakes can be costly. Do your colleagues support you enough? Can you improve your resilience? (Research shows that resilience is one of the most train-able skills.)
So today’s tip: if you’re considering a change of scenery, take stock of your levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Assess your abilities in each and determine if the weakness lies in you or the job. You’ll have a better idea of what to do about the former (train up!) and about the latter.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Search Your Name!
You’ve probably done it before. And maybe there were no surprises. Nothing to worry about. That’s great. But how long has it been? This internet that we love so much? It’s not really known for ‘staying put’. Blink once and something will happen.
And while you’re developing new habits, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also search your firm name and the names of your associates and staff, particularly if they’re meeting with clients.
You may be pleasantly surprised. Some new, complementary reviews that you didn’t know about? Great. Post them on your website. Thank the generous clients and referrers that wrote them. Ask if they wouldn’t mind cross posting the same comments elsewhere. LawyerRatingz. Google Plus. LinkedIn…
Or, you may find less than pleasing results. It happens. Bad reviews. Strange or inappropriate information about your team.
Either way, it’s helpful to know what’s out there before your clients do. That way, whether it’s good news or bad, you can position yourself to make the most of the situation.
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
The Power of a Deep Breath – Find Yours
Start right now.
Place your hand on your heart. Notice your heart beat beneath the palm.
Think of someone or something that brings you happiness. You can’t help but gently smile.
Take a slow, deep breath. Feel your chest rise as you inhale. Feel your heart beat against the palm of your hand.
Hold for one or two counts.
Repeat three to five times.
Remember, this practice is for you. Find your own pace, one that feels good to you. Time your inhale and exhale to the count of five or more if you prefer.
Close your eyes, or leave them open. Which is more natural to you?
If you are in a public place and don’t want to put your hand on your heart, that’s ok, leave that out.
Join me in practicing this simple pause to breathe three times a day. How hard can that be?
Really hard sometimes, until it becomes habit.
As a shallow breather by default, I now practice deep breathing three or more times a day to help counteract this natural propensity.
When I become immersed in my work, I stop breathing from my diaphragm. This increases both physical and mental tension.
Taking mini breaks during the day to consciously breathe helps me clear my head and body, and regain my focus.
Deep breathing also sends a signal to the brain I am relaxing and flips my mental switch from stressed to relaxed.
In a relaxed state we all have enhanced cognitive capacity and enhanced decision-making skills. We can better handle all the environmental distractions and triggers around us.
Join me in adding this simple deep breathing practice to your day.
Notice and enjoy the benefits.
Send me an email to let me know what you discover!
Uncivil Conduct Can Be Cured With Civil Conduct
For several years I worked in a small-ish town in a small-ish bar where everybody knew your name. Stepping into an examination for discovery was almost as familiar as stepping into Cheers. During an examination for a discovery of my client, defence counsel – a lawyer who was typically patient and good-natured – became frustrated and raised his voice. I let it go. But the anger continued into the next question, louder still, demanding my client answer the question with more clarity. I stuck out my hand, fingers up, palm out, to indicate to my client not to answer. Defence counsel whipped around, facing me, eyes digging into me, “What? I’m entitled to an answer!” To which I answered, poker-face, in as calm and measured as a tone as I could muster while maintaining eye contact, “For the record, defence counsel’s voice has raised to an unacceptable level in my view. Let’s take a break. I could use a coffee.” I nodded to my client and we stood up and walked over to grab a few snacks. Defence counsel followed suit, nary a word between us. When we returned to the room, the discovery continued civilly.
After the discovery I received an email from defence counsel apologizing for his conduct. He was going through some problems outside of work. It was unnecessary but a nice gesture – whatever wrong was done was forgiven quickly. Uncivil conduct can be cured with civil conduct. I try and remind myself whenever I see someone treat me poorly that “it’s not personal”. It is likely a bad day for that person, or it is how that person treats everybody. Somehow that helps me forgive and soldier on. It’s a small thing, but I hope it helps you too.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Financial Headwinds to Avoid in 2018
2017 has already come and gone and while it may have seemed like a volatile year from a political perspective, it was actually a very stable rise in the investment markets. In fact the VIX, a measure of volatility in the markets, was one of the lowest on record we have seen in this decade. Often when we have had such periods of market stability, investors underestimate market risk. Here are some financial headwinds to avoid in 2018:
- Borrowing costs will likely rise in 2018.
The economy’s improving, and chances are interest rates will go up. Are you ready?
- Consider interest rates before taking on more debt.
If you have a variable-rate mortgage or a home-equity line of credit, expect your interest rate to keep pace with these increases. Protect yourself by paying down your debts.
- Dealing with low savings rates.
Rates on savings account will probably remain unchanged. Waiting for your big bank to boost savings rates to meaningful levels – equal to the cost of living, or better – is point- less. Search for an online bank with a competitive return on savings. My favorite online site for great rates is Ratehub.ca
- Following the crowd when it comes to crypto currencies.
There’s a gold-rush aspect to bitcoin and other crypto currencies, but it’s also a technology story, an investing story and a testament to how trust in public institutions is decaying. Remember, bitcoin is a virtual currency that isn’t backed by anything tangible such as a government and its central bank.
- Not having a diversified portfolio.
A common reason why stock markets crash is fear of recession. The economies in the United States, Canada and elsewhere seem to be improving, which should be good news for stocks. But there’s a feeling of complacency about risk these days that has to be acknowledged. DON’T forget bonds or GICs still have a place in your portfolio.
- Not understanding what you are paying for investment management fees.
It’s hard to find an investing expert who doesn’t believe we’re in an era of more modest investment returns than we’ve seen in previous periods. Current returns may be a temporary bubble. Lowering fees is one way to get back. Look at what you pay, and what you get for the money. An advisor who skillfully manages your portfolio, your retirement plan and your tax situation may be worth the money.
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)
Silence Quells the Fire
It was an intimidating scenario for a young lawyer. Representing the sole plaintiff in a multi-millionaire dollar lawsuit, I attended my client’s discovery anticipating a bombardment of questions from four defendants’ lawyers, some with more experience lawyering than I had years of life. Deep into a long day, one of the lawyers asked a question I refused. “On what grounds?”, the lawyer asked angrily. “Irrelevant”, I said. Then the other three lawyers chimed in indignantly, “It’s clearly relevant!”, “You’re out of your depth!”, and, to each other, for my benefit, “He’s a young lawyer.”
I was shook, but I had not fallen off my chair. I had gotten what I wanted – the question refused – and everything else was theatre. As my client looked at me, I paused significantly, sitting still, eyes down on my notes, until silence took the room – a trick I learned from a mentor, a senior lawyer whose reputation soared far above my plebeian dreams. And looking up, I said simply, “The question is refused. What is your next question?” The angry lawyer recovered, everyone’s reputation unblemished, and the discovery proceeded routinely, insofar as a discovery with five lawyers can be routine.
Standing strong does not necessarily mean fighting fire with fire, an eye for an eye. When professional conduct begins to deteriorate, remember it takes two to tangle. Refuse to wrestle in the mud – having done what you can with the legal tools available, reacting with grace can be as simple as sitting quietly.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
A New Way to Look at Law Firm Marketing Plans
You’ve been hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be worthwhile to develop a marketing plan for your firm. Meanwhile, there’s been no change to the status quo, even though you’re not actually satisfied that you’re meeting your practice goals.
Well, here’s a new way to look at the problem.
Simplistically, there are five key aspects to a legal marketing plan:
- Target market – Who do you want to reach?
- Messaging – What is your unique and valued difference?
- Vehicles – Where will you distribute that message?
- Action plan – Who will do what, by when and for how much?
- KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – How will you measure the success of your campaign?
If you’re hesitant to embark on a full-fledged marketing plan because you’re unsure that you (or your partners) have the appetite for it, instead try this approach.
Consider if you’re missing just one of the five aspects above (enough so that you feel the pain and you’re all in agreement that it’s an issue). If, yes, then begin with a short and focused planning exercise.
Just start somewhere.
So, for today’s tip. Consider viewing the marketing plan with a fresh perspective. If you can get anything out of it, then go forward, even if it’s just a limited exercise. Success builds on success. Any improvement that your partial plan can deliver for your firm will be sure to build upon itself.
For more reading on marketing plans, see these past articles on SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
Giving Feedback? Changing One Small Word Can Make All the Difference
Have you ever noticed how irritating it can be when someone points out our errors?
At home we might hear: “You forgot to sweep the floor again.”
At work you may be told: “You missed citing the leading authority on this issue.”
It’s never pleasant to be called out on our mistakes. And if the message triggers a stress response, the hormones released inhibit our ability to reflect and reason for a time.
One key to working effectively in teams, with an assistant, or delegating tasks is to learn to provide feedback in a way that supports the individual’s learning and growth. Mastering how to give feedback effectively is a valuable skill.
William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No, writes:
“A natural human tendency is to point a finger at the person: ‘The product was delayed because your team took so long to get organized and because you made too many changes.’ Such you-statements, however, naturally make the other feel defensive and reactive.
A more neutral and effective way to get the same information across is to replace you with the. Here’s an example: ‘The product got delayed as a result of the many changes that were made.’ The-statements avoid conflating the person with the behavior. The-statements are a simple yes to the facts. No blame, no judgment, just the straight facts.” (Positive No, p. 105)
This month notice the difference when instead of focusing the feedback on the person, you zero in on the facts.
Here’s an example:
- You-statement: “The negotiation stalled because you took two weeks to respond to the emails and phone messages and then you changed your mind about the outcome you were after.”
- The-statement of facts: “The negotiation stalled because of delays in responses and the change in the desired outcome.”
In a case where a legal assistant has made an error on a document:
- You-statement: “You missed updating the dollar value on this settlement letter.”
- The-statement of facts: “The settlement letter does not have the updated dollar value.”
This small shift from you to the can make a big impact.
This week, watch for opportunities to exchange you with the-statements and notice the impact this has on the effectiveness of your communication.
This post originally appeared in the Lawyer With A Life Blog.
Is Your Law Firm Experiencing Growing Pains?
The growing pains experienced at law firms don’t usually get self-diagnosed as such.
Instead, they tend to be described in terms of the series of symptoms that happen to be manifesting, often at the same time.
- Without a parallel increase in billings, the lawyers, the staff and the law clerks, all appear to be more frenzied than normal.
- Individuals that used to work well together are, not infrequently, encountering ‘broken telephone’.
- A, not insignificant, percentage of work is being done by the wrong level or position.
- Tasks that used to be streamlined are starting to fall through the cracks.
- People are no longer feeling connected to the firm vision.
- Politics are, on occasion, becoming a distraction.
- Motivation is dropping.
It matters that, at the root, these complaints are all signs of growing pains.
A correct diagnosis would provide you with the opportunity to generate insight about appropriate solutions, rather than applying a series of band aids which could actually make things worse.
To illustrate the point, if you’re not viewing growing pains as a systemic issue, you might be concerned about the performance of specific individuals and begin appropriate measures to address that. If, instead, the problem was treated at the root level, with process improvements, structure adjustments and formal job descriptions, everyone would be part of the solution.
A very different approach.
So, for today’s tip, if you start to notice some (or many) of these issues all starting to present themselves at the same time, rather than problem solving one-by-one, give some consideration to what’s really happening.
Are these isolated issues? Or are they growing pains driven by larger systemic problems?
That conversation alone could be the driver of a completely different course of action… with potentially much better results.
For reading related to growing pains, see these past articles on Slaw and SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
Articling Students and Young Lawyers: Get a Mentor
I was not hired back after articling. After months of searching (soul and otherwise) I was ultimately offered two jobs at the same time. One was located in a trendy area in Toronto for the “young and eligible”. The other was in a small city outside of Toronto, as foreign to me as another country. I had no idea how to choose firms, other than that accepting the Toronto offer would let me stay in my hometown, as, after all, I was young and eligible, and pay me more (at least initially). So I sent a quick thank-you email to the lawyers that I used as references, saying that I was going to choose the Toronto job. Within minutes I received a reply, subject line: “DON’T TAKE THE TORONTO JOB”. And the replies kept coming, advising me to take the other offer.
Ultimately I followed my mentors’ advice, a move which I have been thankful for ever since. It helped launch my career, find a spouse and make a family, and establish a life in a town that I have come to call home. Sure, if I had ignored my mentors, I would probably have ended up just fine. But with the knowledge that I have come to gain in the years since, I know that given the same options I would make the same decision again.
Mentors have valuable knowledge that can help you as an articling student or a young lawyer. They have the benefit of wisdom accumulated over years of trials and tribulations – dealing with difficult clients, managing the ups and downs of practice, navigating a career – and on top of all that, they know you and can give you advice in light of your character. Offering more than just book knowledge, a good mentor may know you better than you know yourself.
Find a mentor in the senior lawyers you work with, in your colleagues, or with formal networks, by joining your local bar association or a section of the Ontario Bar Association. The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Coach and Advisor Network can connect you with a mentor for a specific purpose. The Advocates Society can help you develop skills. And various diversity associations such as the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers can help you network and connect with like-minded lawyers. Also check out practicePRO’s manging a mentoring relationship booklet.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)