Keith Lee

Keith Lee

It has often been observed that litigation is war. The analogy is not perfect, but studying military strategy and tactics can prove fruitful for litigators. While many people often turn to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, for guidance in the applicability of military thought to modern business and litigation, I have a soft spot for von Clausewitz’s Vom Kriege (affiliate links).

Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (July 1, 1780 – November 16, 1831) was a Prussian soldier and military theorist who stressed the “moral” (in modern terms, psychological) and political aspects of war. His most notable work, Vom Kriege (On War), was unfinished at his death.

While all of Vom Kriege is worth your time, I wanted to highlight one passage in particular…

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Keith Lee

Yesterday I went for a run, my usual 5k. I had given some thought to going farther than normal but when I got to the point where I could keep going, the trail crossing over the creek was flooded. I was stymied. Guess I’ll be sticking to 5k. Time to turn around.

I made it two steps before I stopped. Was I really going to let some water stop me from pushing myself? Give up at the first obstacle I came across? I pivoted and made my way through the woods away from the trail and towards the road.

I had to run a few blocks on the road away from my usual route to get to a different bridge over the creek. Then back to the trail and on my way — 10k instead of 5. Double my regular run. My lungs burned, legs tired. I felt great. And I almost didn’t do it because there was a trickle of water in my way….

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Keith Lee

The other day I walked into my local Starbucks. It was moderately full but there was only one other couple in line. I placed my order after the couple in front of me (tall, skinny chai, extra hot), then sat down to wait. I pulled out my phone and thumbed it to life, scrolling through emails, checking Twitter, the usual. After a bit, I realized I had been sitting there for a few minutes without hearing my order.

The couple in front of me had gotten their order and were doctoring their coffees with condiments. The barista behind the counter had a flicker of motivation as he looked down at the ready area of the Starbucks bar. He was a typical-looking Starbucks barista — mid-to-late twenties, tall, skinny, bearded, with thick-framed glasses. A general demeanor of indifference.

“TALL SKINNY CHAI EXTRA HOT.” I walked up to the bar to get my order.

“Uh, your order has been ready for a bit but, uh, they forgot to call it out. If it’s not hot enough, I guess I can make you a new one or whatever….”

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Keith Lee

Before my partners and I started our own firm, I worked for a small insurance defense firm. It was a statewide practice, as most insurance firms are. Often times I would have to drive hours to some small county in the state for a 20-minute hearing, then get back in the car and drive right back.

I clearly recall one day when I spent roughly eight hours round-trip in the car, to attend one of those hearings that only took a little over 30 minutes. In the litany of intricacies of practice that law school does not adequately prepare law students for, add long car drives to the list.

That being said, I don’t really mind it. I rather enjoy the time alone in the car. It’s nice to be disconnected from things and alone with your thoughts. I listened to podcasts. I watched the pine trees go past mile after mile. I sat in silence, only the hum of the road to accompany me. In the hustle of drafting documents, responding to emails, returning phone calls, and meeting with clients, a few hours alone can be a respite….

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Keith Lee

There seems to be a general lament among the elder generation of lawyers in regards to the quality of new law school graduates. Simultaneously, there is also a cacophony of complaints from recent law school graduates about the general state of the legal profession and the dissonance between what they felt they should have received from their law school education. See all the assorted “scamblawgs.”

The older generation’s complaint seems to be that Gen Y grads are, well, complaining too much. Gen Y needs to strap on their big-boy (or girl) pants and get on with it.

Gen Y grads seem to be saying they just haven’t been given the opportunity…

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Keith Lee

One of the great, unspoken realities of being a new lawyer that is never mentioned in law school is that you are going to screw up – badly. And then you’re going to have to explain it to your client or supervising attorney.

You’re going to miss a deadline, not file an objection, miss some case law, or not contact an attorney involved in the case on a hearing. A mistake is going to be made and it will be your fault.

You may be tempted to try and shift the blame. Come up with excuses as to why something outside of your control caused the problem. That you were swamped with work and had too much on your plate. He said, she said. But if it was a task assigned to you, it is your personal responsibility to make sure it was completed on time and specification.

As the task, and subsequent mistake, are your responsibility – you must own it….

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Keith Lee

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of a lawyer. And the longer you are a lawyer, the more it will come to define you – if you let it. But it is a limiting definition, even for the best and brightest of lawyers. Take Marcus Tullius Cicero, likely the most famous lawyer in history. Upon being acclaimed for his skills as a lawyer, it is said that Cicero remarked:

“And yet he often desired his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. But the desire of glory has great power in washing the tinctures of philosophy out of the souls of men, and in imprinting the passions of the common people, by custom and conversation, in the minds of those that take a part in governing them, unless the politician be very careful so to engage in public affairs as to interest himself only in the affairs themselves, but not participate in the passions that are consequent to them.”

– Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD), John Dryden translation

Here we have the greatest lawyer in all of Rome, insisting that he wished to be remembered as a philosopher — a thinker — not a lawyer. Being a lawyer was part of who he was; it did not define him….

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Keith Lee

As has been discussed ad nauseam, it’s a tough time to be a lawyer right now. The legal industry is in a rut and the economy continues to limp along. With the flood of lawyers that have been forced to hang their shingle over the past few years, there has been increased competition for clients. This has led to some fairly cutthroat competition in the world of attorney advertising.

Many types of practice don’t advertise. Or rather, their advertising is of the tried-and-true “display expertise” variety. Write articles for your bar association magazine, speak at clients’ industry events, join boards and committees. Not so much talking about yourself, but showing that you are active and engaged in the legal industry. Let your reputation speak for itself; let others talk about you. Develop a reputation, not a brand.

But building a reputation is hard. Developing a brand is expensive. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just mooch off of someone else’s hard work or money? Such was the proposition to New York attorney (and occasional ATL writer) Eric Turkewitz  this past week…

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Keith Lee

For the past couple of days, I’ve been at a conference held by Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). The purpose of the conference was to kick off a year-long project entitled Foundations For Practice that was being helmed by Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL), a subset of IAALS. ETL is trying to determine the fundamental skills that new law graduates need to make them as appealing as possible to employers directly after they graduate from law school — i.e., how can law schools make sure that their graduates have skills that are valuable to future employers.

IAALS gathered a diverse group of lawyers to discuss the issue. Present were public defenders, judges, former ABA presidents, attorneys general, public interest lawyers, general counsels, Biglaw partners, and small firm lawyers such as myself and fellow Above The Law columnist Carolyn Elefant. We were there to give our perspectives on what were the skills we thought were necessary for new lawyers. Obviously there was strong general consensus as to what skills were necessary for new lawyers to have.

Or not….

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Keith Lee

A couple days ago on Twitter, I noticed Judge Stephen Dillard having a conversation with a few people about the validity of using Wikipedia as a reliable legal authority. I mentioned that I wrote about the topic back in 2011. But given the continued growth and reliance of the general public upon Wikipedia, I decided it was probably worth looking at again.

Wikipedia actually has a page devoted to documents used in legal proceedings that have cited Wikipedia as a source. One particular case provides an in-depth discussion of whether or not the use of Wikipedia is “reliable,” interestingly enough….

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