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Those in need of a lawyer are often in one of the most stressful experiences of their lives. Divorce proceedings, criminal accusations, or personal injury claims turn entire lives upside-down, while something as routine as the purchase of a first home can still be overwhelming. What for the client may be a fulcrum holding their future in the balance, for their lawyer may be just a Tuesday—one of perhaps over a dozen files ongoing at any time.

Yet, it is easy for the lawyer to invest themselves in their clients’ causes and fortunes, taking their wins and losses to heart, making the clients’ pain their own, and vicariously experiencing the “most-stressful-experiences-of-their-lives” of perhaps a dozen clients simultaneously. Consequently, lawyers find themselves experiencing increased rates of depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health issues associated with vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a state of tension and preoccupation with the trauma experienced by others. It is often discussed in relation to fields such as criminal and family law, where the mere facts associated with the file can be distributing. A study in the Pace Law Review titled “Vicarious Trauma in Attorneys” found that lawyers working on files involving domestic violence or criminal defendants demonstrated significantly higher levels of vicarious trauma than mental health providers and social workers dealing with the same matters.

However, traumatic experiences are not limited to those with facts out of a television crime procedural. Lawyers can easily become a reservoir for their clients’ stress and anxiety. It’s been found that the amount of stress felt by a client is correlated with the amount of time spent with their lawyer (J. Steven Picou, “Disaster, Litigation, and the Corrosive Community” 82 Soc F 1493). In fact, generally, “the most common documented impact from civil litigation is emotional and psychological harm” (“Anticipating and Managing the Psychological cost of civil litigation”, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, 2017).

Lawyers should take care, then, to maintain distance and objectivity from the clients and their files. While a lawyer must always strive to be a zealous advocate and represent their client to the best of their abilities, it can be dangerous to take the client’s problems to heart, so to speak. Becoming emotionally invested in a file can, perhaps counterintuitively, undermine the lawyer’s ability to help.

Taking steps, then, to address the symptoms of trauma or other mental health concerns when they arise can prevent more serious breakdowns and practice failures in the future. The Ontario Member Assistance Program (https://homeweb.ca/map) is a free service available to all lawyers, paralegals, judges, law students, and their families, providing counselling and resources to address various mental health concerns, including vicarious trauma.

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

 

It’s so tempting to scroll through your LinkedIn feed and ‘like’ stuff, isn’t it? There is so much pressure to show up and post something. Everyone else seems to be. But is hitting the ‘like’ button really the right response?

Today’s tip isn’t just a tip. It’s a challenge!

For the next 30 days, every time you find yourself reaching for that ‘like’ button, stop yourself. Ask yourself if you can go further. Is there anything you can write that would add value? Convey point of view, experience or insight? Or simply present your personality?

Why is this so important?

LinkedIn is about expanding your network to your 2nd and 3rd degree connections. One way to do that is to comment on other people’s content. If your comment is interesting, helpful, insightful, inspiring, controversial or even just plain old funny, it may start a conversation. At the very least, your network will take notice. More importantly, your network’s network will take notice. That’s how you expand your reach. ‘Liking’? Not so much. Think about it. Do you notice when others ‘like’ a post?

So, for the next 30 days, try something different. Use your words!  And see where it takes you.

For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:

Tips on Law Blogging

So What Should I Write About?

Pitch a Book to CanLII

Also, see the following related articles by Sandra Bekhor:

Climbing the social media tree [infographic]

A fruitful LinkedIn profile [infographic]

Make it rain on LinkedIn

 

Be careful: There may be another you out there, lurking in the non-SEO-optimized back quarters of the internet. Another website profile with your name, maybe even your firm’s name, but with different contact information.

Lawyer impersonation is a serious problem. Many lawyers have been shocked to discover alternate website or contact information from person(s) purporting to be the lawyer in question, offering legal services. At other times, a potential client will contact a firm to speak to a lawyer they believed they had already been corresponding with, only to find that they had actually been speaking with a fraudster impersonating the lawyer and drafting off their reputation for social engineering purposes.

Fraudsters may use these stolen identities to provide an authenticity gloss to phone demand letters, fake settlements aimed at collecting personal information, bad-cheque schemes, and other similar frauds.

In some situations, fraudsters will, essentially, copy-paste an entire website, changing only the URL (by adding a slight modification) along with the contact phone numbers and emails.

Therefore, it may be a good idea to indulge your vanity every once in a while, and put some time into Googling yourself and reviewing what comes up. Do any websites appear on page six of the results that provide incorrect contact information?

If you find someone is using your identity in another jurisdiction, there are limited avenues of response. One option is to query the fraudulent website through a service such as https://whois.icann/org/en, which will be able to provide information on who created the fraudulent site and which provider is hosting it. You can then inform the host of the illegal activity and impersonation and request the site be taken down.

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

 

 

Lawyers are becoming pretty practiced at working remotely. But just because meetings, emails and deadlines are all on track, doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is under control. Despite everyone’s best efforts to normalize life with video conferencing and other remote management tools, there may still be some looming issues.

While our collective online connection is tremendously valuable, these virtual business exchanges can sometimes feel transactional and be ineffective in creating meaningful human connections.

So, today’s tip is to take the time to reach out to the people in your network that may benefit from a more personal interaction. A phone call, a video chat or even a physically distanced walk in nature that isn’t strictly business.

Give some thought to:

  • Speaking one-on-one with lawyers and staff that may need mentoring, coaching or even just a bit of encouragement.
  • Recognizing your team for all they’ve been able to accomplish, despite the upheaval this year has presented.
  • Catching up with clients, colleagues, classmates and others in your community who you used to run into at professional events and who may be feeling the strain of a long period of social isolation.

A well-timed conversation can help to reset someone’s motivation and mindset. If you’re in position to make that connection, reach out. Now is the time, before we all go into hibernation for the holidays.

It may mean more than you realize.

For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:

Managing Remote Professionals

Using Covid to Progress Your Firm

Post-Pandemic Planning Tip

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

A business development plan for remote working

Post-pandemic law firm marketing (19 legal influencers chime in)

 

What is trauma-informed lawyering?

Myrna McCallum–a former prosecutor and Indian Residential School adjudicator–sees it as a critical competency requirement, yet one that’s missing from law school and bar course curriculums.

Today’s tip is to learn about trauma-informed lawyering through McCallum’s podcast, the Trauma-Informed Lawyer, which she has created in partnership with the Canadian Bar Association.

McCallum sets out to offer some of that education through in-depth conversations with fellow lawyers, judges, academics and others on vicarious trauma, restorative/transformative justice, cultural humility, trauma and diversity, and many more vitally important topics.

From episode 1:

“I created this podcast to educate, inform and inspire lawyers and all interested listeners. Although I originally had law students, lawyers and judges in mind when I thought about this podcast and who I wanted it to speak to, it really is for everyone, especially those who have worked inside the courtroom, or with police services, advocacy organizations, or just anyone committed to access to justice.”

You can listen to the Trauma-Informed Lawyer Podcast here: https://thetraumainformedlawyer.simplecast.com/episodes

 

Ethical lapses on the part of lawyers are often due to mistake, rather than known wrongdoing. The problem is not intention, but lack of attention. Taking the time to pause and ask yourself the following ethical questions before embarking on a course of action will help maintain your ethical obligations, your quality of representation, and the benefit you provide to the public.

1.Are you competent in the relevant legal areas?
“Don’t dabble” is an oft-repeated mantra. Lawyers may sometimes feel pressure to expand the scope of their representation to encompass tangential or additional matters brought forward by a client. Sometimes the best legal advice you can give to a client is a referral to another lawyer with the necessary experience.

2. Who is your client?
Lawyers can sometimes find themselves in a situation where they are, perhaps inadvertently, representing multiple parties with potentially adverse interests. Be careful to specify and remind yourself who you have agreed to represent, and then ensure that the instructions you take and the advice you give are from and to that person.

3. What are your client’s intentions?
Fraudsters often use inattentive lawyers as unknowing instruments and accomplices for unethical and illegal conduct. Willful blindness or unreasonable ignorance in such circumstances will not prevent a potential finding of liability for malpractice, or worse. Take the time to confirm your client is not leading everyone, including you, down the garden path.

4. What are the parameters of your retainer?
Lawyers can run into trouble when they act without client instructions or fail to act in accordance with instructions. This can leave you torn between bad choices if time-sensitive developments occur and your client is unavailable to instruct. Ensure you set out at the beginning of the retainer the exact scope of your representation, the circumstances in which you will seek instructions, and the ways in which you will obtain those instructions.

5. Are you maintaining confidentiality?
An inadvertent failure to keep client confidentiality can be a serious breach of a lawyer’s ethical obligations. For example, border crossing with electronic devices containing privileged information can expose those devices to search by Canadian or foreign officials. Only bring “clean” devices across a border (without any confidential information on them). In the alternative, encrypting the contents of your devices or segregating privileged material into clearly marked folders or accounts will still provide some safeguards for your ethical obligations.

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

 

When you post content on LinkedIn or even comment on someone else’s post, what part of your profile do your connections see in their feed? Three things. That’s it.

  1. A mini thumbnail of your headshot
  2. Your name
  3. A headline (120 characters or less)

Most lawyers and other professionals use their LinkedIn profile headline for their literal job title. That’s not actually the best way to maximize this line. Job titles all tend to sound the same and they aren’t really that interesting. Imagine seeing a sea of these titles in a search result.

Yawn.

Your headline can convey more than your actual job title. It can become an advertisement for your profile page. So, for today’s tip, consider how you can update your LinkedIn headline to maximize the value of all your views:

  • Can you describe how you help your clients?
  • What types of clients do you work with?
  • How do clients benefit from working with your firm?
  • Can you describe the style in which you deliver your services?
  • Why did you choose this line of work?

Take 5 minutes today to update the most important line on your LinkedIn profile. It’s a worthwhile step, given the exposure it gets relative to the rest of your page.

For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:

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

 

Administrator’s note: thanks to Toronto legal communication expert and litigation consultant Caroline Mandell for this guest tip!

Here are five tips for virtual oral argument, now that I’ve watched some Zoom appeals:

  1. Stand, don’t sit. The neuroscience shows we literally think better on our feet, and it’s the way you’re accustomed to arguing. Invest in a desktop lectern to make it feel more authentic.
  2. File an oral argument compendium to direct the court to key documents rather than sharing your screen. It’s easier for judges to follow along and mark up their own copies. (Bonus: the compendium forces you to prep well in advance of the hearing.)
  3. Enlist someone whose only job is to watch the judges’ faces and signal you when it looks like someone wants to ask a question. No legal training required—put a family member to work.
  4. If you need a break, ask for it. If the court offers to take a break, agree to it. Even a 5-minute pause between your argument and your co-counsel or opposing counsel’s argument will be cognitively refreshing for everyone.
  5. SLOW DOWN. Zoom deprives you of many of the non-verbal cues that normally tell you to put the brakes on. Pause when you’re directing the court to a document or moving onto a new point. Ask if they’re ready to proceed.

Now as always, the secret to good advocacy is empathy. Put yourself in the court’s position and ask yourself what you’d find most helpful. Then do that. Good luck!

_____

Hat tip to the Law Society of Saskatchewan/Legal Sourcery – these tips were mentioned in a recent COVID-19 Legal News Roundup.

 

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.

 

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