Communication

dartboard pen on target inside straightFirst, an example; then, a rant.

Here’s the example: I attended a mediation. The mediator gave each side 20 minutes to make an opening presentation. After one advocate had spoken for 80 — you read that right: 80 — minutes, the mediator suggested that it was time for him to wrap up.

The guy flipped through his notes, said that he still had a lot of material to cover, and then offered: “To speed things up, I’ll just bullet-point my arguments.”

Before the “continue reading” icon, I’ll note the lessons to be learned from this tale that are not the subject of today’s rant. First: If you’re given 20 minutes to speak, speak for 20 minutes. Got that?

Second: If you’re given 20 minutes to speak, you drone on for 80 minutes, and the mediator then suggests that it’s time for you to wrap up, you may speak for about two more sentences. Then, it’s time to sit down. Got that?

Third, and the most valuable lesson — instructive, yet infused with a certain dry wit — . . . .

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Abbrev’s For Idio’s (Or, 3 Tips For Effective Communication)”

Whether you practice in Biglaw or a boutique, knowing how to email is a critical skill. In fact, the quality of a lawyer’s emails is an excellent indicator of that lawyer’s future career prospects (excepting those lawyers fortunate to be born with a guaranteed multimillion-dollar book of business through family connections). This should not be a surprise, considering how email is the single most used form of communication for lawyers. Yes, technology has liberated us from a full day’s work (with the help of a secretary) in order to prepare what would now be considered a routine client communication in the form of a fancy letter. But the need for a similar level of care in preparing today’s written communications has not changed. Show me an associate’s emails, and I (along with other former or current Biglaw partners) will have a very respectable success rate in guessing whether or not the associate is partnership material, even in the absence of other information about the author.

I have sent many thousands of emails in my legal career. I do not know how many of them would have been considered “good” emails, but I’d like to think that most of them were. I was fortunate, since I worked for a partner who stressed to me early on the importance of sending “good” emails.

What is a “good” email?

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In last week’s column, I discussed the importance of external communication during the mediation process in securing a favorable result for a client. Many of the people who wrote to me as a result of last week’s column agreed with my general premise that mediation is an important skill for the contemporary litigator, and that mediation’s importance will only continue to grow.

A primary driver of that growth will be the continued desire of clients to reduce litigation costs. More and more, clients are recognizing the value of mediation as a means of resolving disputes early and with certainty. Accordingly, those same clients are looking to their outside counsel to guide them through the mediation process, and it is safe to assume that how outside counsel fares at that task could be a crucial factor in terms of a client’s willingness to send that lawyer more business….

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Mediation. For some lawyers, it is a great way to spend a day; for others, it is an interminable bore, and ineffective to boot. It is easy to imagine that lawyers who have had successful mediation experiences are more likely to fall into the former category than the latter. What is more certain, however, is that mediation skills are increasingly important for a litigator to have, for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, most lawyers, especially Biglaw attorneys, are left to fend for themselves when it comes to developing those skills. That is a shame, as the importance of being able to mediate successfully has only grown in today’s business climate. More generally, negotiation skills remain under-taught in law schools and by law firms, and as a result are underdeveloped in many lawyers.

Any chance a lawyer has to develop their mediation skills should be seized. As an intellectual property litigator, all of my cases originate in federal district courts, and throughout the country, almost every case schedule includes mediation (or some other form of alternative dispute resolution) as a distinct event. Where on the schedule the mediation occurs, and whether it is held before a magistrate judge or local certified mediator, is usually up for negotiation between the parties. What is important is that mandated mediation is on the schedule. As a result, just as litigators need to know how to handle a discovery motion in a particular court, so should they be prepared to make the most out of whatever mediation process their case calls for. Interestingly, mediation has become an important part of appeals as well, including at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a familiar forum for patent litigators like myself….

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It’s been viewed online nearly 7 million times. Sheryl Sandberg calls it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley. And it was created by the company whose stock increased in 2013 more than any other’s in the S&P 500—up nearly 350%.

“It” is a 126-slide PowerPoint called “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility,” and it outlines Netflix’s approach to just that—culture—although it has primarily been interpreted as a “reinvention” of HR, as this Harvard Business Review article puts it.

Going through the entire PowerPoint (I have) is valuable in and of itself; if nothing else, you’ll see how very well done PowerPoints can be, for a change. But the HBR article, written by the former head of HR at Netflix itself, distills their approach to talent into five tenets based on two key insights into how people actually feel about performing their jobs…

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Turnabout.

I recently wrote about how to demoralize, discourage, and disenchant top talent. This is about how to retain that talent. Like the prior column, this one is based on one of the top columns of the year from Strategy + Business, the Booz & Co. publication: Retaining Top Talent: Yes, It Really Is All About Them.

Prefatory clarification: What follows isn’t addressed to your inner circle of key leaders, or to the Super Rainmakers, all of whom you presumably know intimately, and with whom you talk about what follows all the time, in ways tailored to each individual. Rather, what follows is addressed to how you deal with all the talent that’s not at the tippy-top of your firm already.

Here’s how the Strategy + Business piece starts:

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

One of the thorniest issues any leader has to deal with is telling senior-level underperformers that they’d be better off elsewhere. It calls on every skill in the manager’s bag of tricks, from financial analysis to subtler cultural and personality judgments, and accurate perspective on the impact on the organization overall of asking a high-profile person to leave.

To be honest, it’s also one of the most difficult challenges we deal with in advising firms about their paths forward. Although at times it’s crystal clear what needs to be done, far more often you have no such luxury of being able to shortcut analysis and judgment, and you have to work through all the potential interactions and repercussions to decide with some degree of confidence what to do. Then of course you actually have to do it. You’d be surprised — or maybe you wouldn’t — how often otherwise hard-headed and decisive leaders never quite get around to that part of it….

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I went through my first 360-degree review — where those above, beside, and beneath you in the organization all anonymously evaluate your performance — two years ago. Never one to shy away from abject public self-humiliation, I shared the result of that review in this column. I revealed that my biggest “blind spot” two years ago was in the area of celebrating the accomplishments of folks on my team: I thought I was pretty good on that score; those who worked under my supervision begged to differ.

I told you that I would fix that problem, and I did. During this year’s 360-degree review, my score for celebrating our accomplishments was a solid 4.0 — 0.9 better than two years ago, and precisely how I’d graded myself this time around. It had actually been pretty easy to solve this problem: I distributed emails celebrating our victories more often and to wider audiences; I stopped by folks’ desks to congratulate them on wins; and I was otherwise more sensitive to letting the world know when my merry gang of litigators did nice work.

Now that I’ve solved one management problem, however, another one naturally reared its ugly head during this year’s 360-degree review . . . .

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One firm just started pocketing 20 percent of partner pay.

Many lessons can be drawn from the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf. We’ve learned, for example, that it’s dangerous to have a law firm name that’s highly susceptible to puns. (Dewey know why that is? Howrey going to find out? Heller if I know.)

Another lesson: avoid excessive dependence upon bank financing. When a firm starts to spiral downwards, that spiraling can be accelerated by a bank calling a loan, not renewing a credit facility, or otherwise taking steps to protect itself that, while reasonable for the bank, can be damaging to the firm.

Firms have responded by turning to their partners for more financing. An increasing number of firms are issuing capital calls to partners or requiring high capital contributions.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that one law firm has instituted a new policy of withholding 20 percent of partner pay….

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The case had been tried (to a judge, in a country outside the United States) in 2008.

The potential exposure was, let’s say, material.

One can’t exactly wait with bated breath for four years, but one can be keenly interested in a judge’s decision.

So one can be slightly disappointed when the “re” line of an email from outside counsel reads (in its entirety): “Statement of Decision in BigCo v. YourCo.”

Did we win? No news yet.

Surely the news is just a click away.

But one could be a tad frustrated to read the contents of the email message that followed . . .

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