What’s in a name?

My legal career has started with it’s fair share of zigs and zags. There was job searching and interning, planning and solo lawyering, trying a regular job at my state bar, and finally landing in a fledgling elder law firm. All along the way I’ve maintained an interest in blogging, and my blog has been through many iterations. It feels like I’ve remade my wordpress site a thousand times already. But I have to admit that it’s time for another change of course.

Each remake has come from a change in my career. I’ve always tried to be strategic about my writing and use it to advance my career goals; so every time my career takes a turn, my blog has to as well. It turns out there have been more turns than I thought there would be on this journey.

All this is to say: “The Editing Lawyer” is probably not the best title for this blog anymore; that’s what I used to do. It seems I’m in need of another rebranding. But I’d like this to be the last time, even if my career takes another unexpected turn.

Perhaps I can achieve that by focusing less on my current job and more on who I am as a professional. One of the main goals of having a blog, after all, is to let people see a bit of who you are beyond your resume. The tradeoff is that it won’t be a niche-focused blog, which is the type that can really pay off in the long run.

When your legal niche keeps changing, do you keep throwing away old blogging efforts? Or is it better, as a young lawyer, to just blog about whatever you do professionally, without trying to create a narrowly tailored site?

What is estate planning, exactly?

Estate planning looks different for everyone because everyone’s situation is unique. The general idea, though, is to take legal action now that ensures your family is taken care of and your wishes are honored in the future.

The first step in estate planning is always to collect information and assess your current situation—not just your finances, but your health and family, too. This lets a lawyer anticipate problems and plan for your unique situation.

Depending on your situation, you will probably identify several of these goals for your estate plan:

  • Pass on your possessions to your spouse or children after you die
  • Make sure your stuff doesn’t have to go through probate (a public and sometimes lengthy process)
  • Name who will take care of your children if something happens to you and your spouse
  • Name someone to make health care decisions for you if you can’t
  • Name someone to manage your finances if you can’t
  • Make your wishes for specific health care known (for example, say when you want your family to “pull the plug”)
  • Ensure your minor or disabled children are provided for
  • Ensure your heirs don’t squander their inheritance
  • Protect your savings and retirement from unforeseen threats (such as a lawsuit)
  • Plan ahead to be eligible for Medicaid or Veterans Benefits, in case you ever need them to pay for long-term care in a nursing home
  • Ensure your money stays in your family, even after you’ve given it to your children
  • Plan for funeral expenses

You accomplish these goals by executing legal documents. Most people think of making a will when they think of estate planning, but that’s usually just one part of the picture. An estate plan may include:

  • A will;
  • A health care power of attorney;
  • A power of attorney for finances;
  • A living will;
  • A personal care plan;
  • A revocable trust; and
  • An irrevocable trust.

When you combine the concepts of financial and health care goals and legal documents, you get a good picture of estate planning. It’s a process:

  1. Assess your current finances, health, and family situation.
  2. Identify problems you’d like to avoid, financial and health care decisions you’d like to make in advance, and any other goals.
  3. Draft and execute legal documents to accomplish your goals.

One last thing. There’s a fourth step in the process: revisiting your documents and updating them from time to time, to keep them current as life and the law changes. Many people wait decades before revising their estate plans, and that can result in unintended consequences. A good estate planning lawyer will have a program or system in place to keep in touch that makes it easy to keep things up to date.

An overview of my work

Now that I’ve been at my new job for a couple of months, here’s a little more detail on my day-to-day work.

People hire our firm for a few different reasons:

  1. They need estate planning. Usually they want to avoid probate, so they need trust-based planning.
  2. They want to protect their life savings from the huge cost of long-term care; they don’t want everything they’ve earned wiped out if they have to go to a nursing home.
  3. They are already in a nursing home (or needing another form of long-term care) and they need to apply for Medicaid while saving as much as possible.
  4. They are a veteran or spouse of a veteran, and want help qualifying and applying for VA benefits.

Of course, we end up doing other kinds of incidental legal work as well—real estate contracts and the like. But that’s the majority of what we do. As time goes on, we will probably do more of the work at the other end of estate planning: probate and trust administration after death.

So how do I accomplish what clients have hired me to do? The legal tool we use in nearly all of our work is the trust—particularly irrevocable trusts. A trust is simply the most flexible, most powerful way to control your possessions. Crucially, it lets you determine now what will happen to your things in the future. That’s what estate planning is all about—anticipating problems and using your legal power to prevent them.

So that’s what drives my work, but how do I actually spend my day? Right now my primary activities are:

  1. Learning—I’m still new to estate planning, so this is my most important task. I do a lot of legal research throughout my day.
  2. Meeting/counseling clients—Helping clients understand what we do and why is always part of the job. Getting information about their unique situation and goals is essential to doing my legal work well.
  3. Drafting legal documents—I draft wills, trusts, powers of attorney, personal care plans, etc.
  4. Business things—I’m one of two attorneys, so I have to be a part of developing business, too. This means marketing, networking, and improving our internal processes. (I’m quickly becoming the go-to technology guy.)

That’s an overview of my daily work and what it accomplishes. The only thing I’d add is: I still like it. I get to solve interesting problems in creative ways each day, and I can’t wait to learn more.

New Year, New Job

The new year brought many changes for me: a new baby, a new car, and now a new job. I wasn’t looking to change my work; life happens, as they say, and I found an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Old networking paid off

This new job is the result of networking I did a year ago (networking does take time to pay off). My new employer is an attorney whose practice is starting to take off, and he needed another lawyer to handle the work. He wanted a young lawyer he could mentor and train. He talked to another attorney involved in the county bar association, who remembered me from the bar events and networking I did with her. She introduced us via email, and the connection was made.

(Side note: part of this story is the value of being one of the few young lawyers in areas outside the big cities. I wasn’t competing with many other “young lawyers to mentor” in the mind of my networking contact.)

What makes my new work unique

What is this new job? It’s mostly estate planning—wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and such. These are legal documents everyone needs and no one likes getting. I say “mostly” because we also do elder law, which means we help people deal with Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, and long-term healthcare.

What makes my work unique is the combination of estate planning and elder law. Most lawyers will “do estate planning,” even if it’s not their focus. They design a will or trust with one concern: distributing the client’s stuff per his or her wishes (and probably trying to avoid probate and taxes while they’re at it).

We do that too, of course, but we also go further: we make a plan that takes into account Medicaid eligibility, having to pay for a nursing home, veteran’s benefits, future lawsuits, family conflict, and the client’s healthcare wishes.

I still get to work with words

In my old job, I edited legal books; I needed creative thinking, planning, organizational skills, knowledge of a specific set of rules (grammar and style), and lots of attention to detail. I enjoyed that kind of work.

Thankfully, I’ll continue to work with words in my new job. The core of my work will be drafting legal documents—documents that have legal force and need to be correct and clear. I’m going to enjoy giving clients something I know is well-drafted (because so many legal documents aren’t).

The best part: It’s fun

The best part of this new job, however, is telling people that they have more power over their future than they ever knew. It’s telling them that they can provide for their families, even if the worst happens.

I think practicing law this way is fun. It’s fun because I get to help people with my specialized knowledge. It’s fun because I get to tell people they have power over their future that they never knew about. And it’s fun because what I do is kind of like magic; we put the right words on paper and sign it, and reality changes, and now my client’s stuff is controlled by their own rules instead of someone else’s.

I still have a lot to learn, but I’m already happy. I’m happy that I get to continue working with words and editing, and I’m happy that I get to help people.

Why you should heed the typography experts

Like most lawyers, I learned poor typography from an early age. Throughout college and my first year of law school, I typed two spaces after every sentence, double-spaced my papers, and wrote everything in Times New Roman. Then I read Typography for Lawyers, and my eyes were opened. Once an expert carefully explained how to make my documents look professional and why it mattered, I was quick to adopt all the typographical conventions.

Not everyone is so quick to adopt, though—and understandably so. Lawyers are an independent sort, relying on our own judgments. We get used to the way things are done and recognize the value of constancy. Many lawyers need a better reason than “the experts say so” to make a change.

I recently marshalled those reasons to try and persuade some colleagues. I rounded up much of what lawyers other than Matthew Butterick have argued on the subject of typography, and now I offer those links and nuggets below. I’ve quoted selectively to focus on a few particular issues, but the sources discuss more.

These sources generally agree on three points:

  1. Certain typographical conventions are almost universally upheld among typographers, designers, and publishers.
  2. Following those conventions improves legibility for the reader.
  3. Following those conventions improves the credibility of the author.

To give credit where it is due, I found much of what I quote below through Raymond Ward’s blog, the (new) legal writer. You can start with this post and follow the rabbit trail of links.

Everyone agrees on certain typographical conventions.

Pretty much everyone who is an authority or knows something about the design of documents agrees that only one space should be used after a paragraph, that justification with hyphenation or left-aligned text is acceptable (but justification without hyphenation is not), and that first-line indents need not be used along with spaces between paragraphs. These are near-universal conventions of professional typography. “Everyone” includes Bryan Garner, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Matthew Butterick (author of Typography for Lawyers), appellate lawyers, legal bloggers, criminal defense curmudgeons, Above the Law, legal writing professors, a contract drafting lawyer, and a New York City judge (and many of these people cite others, too many to gather).

These conventions are universally accepted because they are useful. They improve legibility for the reader and credibility for the author.

Following typographical conventions improves legibility.

If you read nothing else below, read this article. It cites to interdisciplinary studies and accepted graphic design principles to provide evidence that following typographic conventions improves both legibility and credibility.

There’s really too much to quote directly. Read it all—this is the only article I’ve found that pulls together real interdisciplinary studies on how typography affects legibility.

The Seventh Circuit:

A business consultant seeking to persuade a client prepares a detailed, full-color presentation using the best available tools. An architect presenting a design idea to a client comes with physical models, presentations in software, and other tools of persuasion. Law is no different. Choosing the best type won’t guarantee success, but it is worthwhile to invest some time in improving the quality of the brief’s appearance and legibility. …

When used with proportionally spaced type, extra spaces lead to what typographers call “rivers”—wide, meandering areas of white space up and down a page. Rivers interfere with the eyes’ movement from one word to the next. …

Do not justify your text unless you hyphenate it too. If you fully justify unhyphenated text, rivers result as the word processing or page layout program adds white space between words so that the margins line up.

The Redbook:

Readability. Except in the hands of a skillful typographer, fully justified text can be harder to read than unjustified (“flush-left”) text. This is always true for office documents, especially when they are un-hyphenated as well. … Rivers of white space may appear to flow down the type, requiring some editing of the copy to correct. … Setting the copy flush left has its own advantages, too: the uneven right margin gives visual clues that help the reader find the beginning of the next line. Readers don’t lose their place in the copy as often.

Mark Bennett at Defending People:

Typography is the art of making documents work well. Butterick makes the case for lawyers learning some typography: it is a necessary tool for holding readers’ attention. Filing an important document without considering how it looks is like (in Butterick’s words) showing up for an oral argument dressed in jeans and sneakers, then slouching at the lectern, eyes cast downward, while reading from a script in a monotone.

A New York City Judge:

Because typography affects legibility and readability, lawyers must, when in doubt, prefer legible to beautiful and, then, complying with rules to legibility. …

Legal writers, as opposed to publishers, should stick to left-aligned text; it’s easiest to read. The uneven margin on the right-hand side, also known as a right-ragged effect, helps readers find the beginning of the next line. It helps readers keep on reading.

Adams on Contract Drafting:

Does justified text have anything going for it for purposes of word-processed documents? Well, its defenders will tell you that it looks “professional.” But it’s a phony professionalism, in that it comes at the expense of readability, which should be the first priority of any kind of typesetting, including word processing. …

As the online Chicago Style Q&A states, there’s no evidence that using two spaces makes text easier to read. …

So if you’re still using two spaces, stop it—your credibility is at stake!

Following the typographical conventions improves credibility.

The Seventh Circuit:

A business consultant seeking to persuade a client prepares a detailed, full-color presentation using the best available tools. An architect presenting a design idea to a client comes with physical models, presentations in software, and other tools of persuasion. Law is no different. Choosing the best type won’t guarantee success, but it is worthwhile to invest some time in improving the quality of the brief’s appearance and legibility.

Above the Law:

It matters because as a lawyer, writing is your craft, so you should use your tools correctly and expertly. It matters because some of your readers might just realize that you made a mistake, and might just think a little less of your attention to detail, or about how much you really care about getting things right.

Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice:

That’s largely the point of [Typography for Lawyers], that by adopting the ways of typographers, without having to reinvent the typography wheel with every point made, we can make our work appear more professional, poised and persuasive. …

The book is filled with nuggets, rationales and mechanics to make our papers look better. No, they won’t make a loser appeal into a winner, but like wearing a decent suit to court, or polishing your shoes, it’s one less detriment and one more benefit. Butterick’s point, and mine, is that there’s no good reason not to do it as well as it can be done.

Mark Bennett at Defending People:

Typography is the art of making documents work well. Butterick makes the case for lawyers learning some typography: it is a necessary tool for holding readers’ attention. Filing an important document without considering how it looks is like (in Butterick’s words) showing up for an oral argument dressed in jeans and sneakers, then slouching at the lectern, eyes cast downward, while reading from a script in a monotone.

A New York City Judge:

Without effective, legible typography, the reader won’t appreciate a document’s content. When you have a choice, make the document accessible, comprehensible, persuasive, and professional.

Adams on Contract Drafting:

Does justified text have anything going for it for purposes of word-processed documents? Well, its defenders will tell you that it looks “professional.” But it’s a phony professionalism, in that it comes at the expense of readability, which should be the first priority of any kind of typesetting, including word processing. …

As the online Chicago Style Q&A states, there’s no evidence that using two spaces makes text easier to read. …

So if you’re still using two spaces, stop it—your credibility is at stake!

How to make your documents look professional

If you’re at all like me, you spent your entire college and law school career writing papers with required formatting: double-spaced, Times New Roman, and one-inch margins. You put two spaces after each sentence because that’s how you were taught to type. You hit the tab key at the start of each paragraph because how else do you get that nice big indent?

Many of us carried this formatting into the professional world. The problem is that it produces memos, emails, and reports that look like homework, not professional analysis.

The look of your documents matters for the same reason wearing a suit to court matters.

Wearing a suit to court is a matter of decorum, professionalism, reputation, and respect. It means you take the matter seriously. It won’t win you the case, but the judge isn’t going to berate you because you’re wearing sweatpants, either.

Legal documents need to appear in formal attire, too. With only a few changes, you can dress up your writing and make it that much easier for your reader to hear you.

Here’s how to start.

1. Use only one space after each sentence.

Like many, I was taught to hit the spacebar twice after each sentence in my middle school typing class. This is a holdover from the days of typewriters. In today’s world, it is objectively worse than using only one space.

Matthew Butterick—your friendly neighborhood typographer-lawyer—lays down the law:

Always put exactly one space between sen­tences.

Or more gen­er­ally: put exactly one space after any punc­tu­a­tion.

… [O]ne space is the well-set­tled cus­tom of pro­fes­sional typog­ra­phers. You don’t need to like it. You only need to accept it.

I have no idea why so many writ­ers resist the one-space rule. If you’re skep­ti­cal, pick up any book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine and tell me how many spaces there are between sen­tences.

Cor­rect—one.

That last bit is, humorously, exactly what converted Bryan Garner himself. He tells the story as a vignette for the ABA. His first secretary at LawProse told him that he had to stop putting two spaces after each sentence, or “[o]ur coursebooks are going to look amateurish.” As proof, she told him to look at his two books that Oxford University Press had published. Garner: “I went through an extensive reference library to prove Ruth and Oxford wrong. But every reputable source I could find, including The Chicago Manual of Style, supported them—not me.”

2. Start your paragraphs with either a first-line indent or a space after the previous paragraph.

From Butterick:

First-line indents and space between para­graphs have the same rela­tion­ship as belts and sus­penders. You only need one to get the job done. Using both is a mis­take. If you use a first-line indent on a para­graph, don’t use space between. And vice versa.

He also admonishes not to approximate a first-line indent with the tab key. In Word, set it as a paragraph property. Why? Because paragraphs with tabs are hard to keep consistent or reformat. In other words, it will allow you to use Word’s styles properly.

3. If you justify your text, turn on hyphenation. Otherwise, left-align.

Much of the legal and professional world seems to like justified text. It has that bookish, formal look—until gigantic spaces appear between words. That’s why hyphenation exists, and you should turn it on. It’s under the “Layout” tab in Word. For a nice side-by-side illustration of the effect, see Butterick.

If that’s too much of a bother, left-aligning the text is fine, too. Many people find it easier to read. It’s especially appropriate for webpages, where the width of the text will vary with the reader’s device.

4. Use appropriate line spacing.

Double-spacing is for drafts; it isn’t meant for reading. You’ll never see a book, newspaper, or magazine double-spaced. Single-spaced text is hard to read, too. It takes a bit of work, but setting the line spacing between 120% and 145% of the point size of the text is best.

5. Consider a different font, if you can.

Times New Roman is the king of default fonts. It’s okay (Butterick thinks it connotes apathy), though not ideal for readability. Using it won’t hurt your credibility or distract the reader (unless your reader is a font snob). So using a different font is something of a judgment call.

If you can make that call, though, you have the chance to present something fresh and interesting to the reader. Rather like choosing a tie, you can show something of your personality in your choice of font. Butterick’s list of acceptable system fonts is a good place to start. One of my favorites is Charter, which is even available for free (Medium notably chose it as their text font).

6. Increase your side margins to 1.5 inches—or 2 inches if you dare.

This produces one of the most immediate and dramatic improvements to the look of any Word document. It takes some courage, because people are so used to 1-inch margins that they’ll notice it immediately. But once they’re done noticing it, they’ll realize it’s better.

Increasing the margins increases whitespace, another characteristic of professional publishing. It’s all about line length. The longer a line of text is, the harder it is to follow and read from line to line.

How to search Wis. Stats. from your Chrome address bar

One of the things we can be proud of as Wisconsin attorneys is our legislature’s website. The statutes and administrative code are easy to access and free. People in other states aren’t always so lucky.

If you’re like me, you probably only go to the state legislature website to search for a statute or regulation. You probably have the site bookmarked, and every time you click that bookmark you immediately put a search in the box at the top of the site. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead, you could put your search right in your browser’s address bar—without navigating to the legislature website first?

Of course, you can. Here’s how to do it in Chrome.

1. On your computer, open Chrome.

2. At the top right, click the three-dot menu button; select “Settings”.

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3. In the “Search” section, click “Manage search engines”.

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4. Under “Other search engines”:

Look at the bottom for an entry called “WisLeg.” This should appear if you’ve ever used the search on the legislature’s website while using Chrome. If it’s not there, try going to the legislature’s website and entering a search, then check again. You can also copy and paste this url into the third box on the “Add a new search engine” line: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/search/results?q=%s&start={startIndex?}&rows={count?}

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Click on the middle column for the “WisLeg” entry. This is the keyword you’ll use to perform a search from Chrome’s address bar. Right now it should be “legis.wisconsin.gov”; if you typed that into the address bar and then pressed tab, you would search the legislature’s website. But that’s a bit long, so rename it to something you’ll remember and can type quickly, like “legis” or “stats”.

If you want, you can also rename the search engine from “WisLeg” to something else—but this won’t affect the search.

wis-stats-4

 

5. That’s it!

Try opening a new tab and typing the keyword you chose into the address bar. You should see a message on the right end of the bar telling you that if you press tab, you’ll search the legislature’s website. Go ahead and press tab, then enter a search and press enter. You’ll be taken directly to the legislature website’s search results page.

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Now that you’ve set up this nice shortcut for searching the legislature’s website, you can do the same thing for almost any website that has search.

The semicolon vs. the em-dash—an eternal quandary.

Few marks of punctuation are misunderstood and misused like these two. Infinitely useful—both connect ideas without the break of a new sentence—yet vaguely understood, both the semicolon and the em-dash tend to be either ignored or overused. When used well, however, they help the flow of ideas like nothing else.

As for me, I’ve used semicolons and em-dashes liberally in my writing since college. Yet, I’ve never paused to consider how they perform similar functions or figure out when to use one over the other—until now.

Similar functions

First, let’s define the correct way to use these marks. I’m only interested in using them to connect thoughts in a sentence, so I’ll omit other uses. I’ll take my direction (and examples) directly from Bryan Garner, in both Modern English Usage and The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (yes, I own both).

The Semicolon. This is “a kind of supercomma.” It separates sentence parts that need a more distinct break than a comma can signal, but that are too closely connected to make into separate sentences. It is most commonly used to:

  • Unite closely connected sentences. Example: “But Shakespeare’s language appears entirely familiar to us, although it is almost 400 years old; the spelling, the vocabulary, the shapes of the words and phrases seem to have changed but little in that time.”
  • Give a weightier pause than a comma would. This use is discretionary. A comma (or perhaps a dash) would do, but you want a stronger stop. Example: “There is never anything sexy about Lautrec’s art; but there also is never anything deliberately, sarcastically anti-feminist in it.”

The Em-Dash. An em-dash is used to mark an interruption in the structure of a sentence. More specifically, it can be used to:

  • Set off an inserted phrase that, because of what it modifies, needs to go in the middle of a sentence. Example: “In America—as elsewhere—free speech is confined to the dead.”
  • Set off a parenthetical phrase that you want to highlight. Example: “They say—the astrologers, I mean—that it will get better and better for me as I go on.”
  • Tack on an important afterthought. Example: “It was June when we buried him—the summer solstice.”

Garner opines: “The em-dash is perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American writing. Whatever the type of writing, dashes can often clarify a sentence that is clogged up with commas—or even one that’s otherwise lusterless.”

What’s the difference?

As you can see, both the semicolon and the em-dash introduce a weighty pause to a sentence. I think this is why I’m often unsure of which to use; I know that I want a pause (not a period), and that either a semicolon or an em-dash would produce the right rhythm.

Looking at the uses above, here’s what I observe: an em-dash sets off a thought, while a semicolon unites two closely connected thoughts. I perhaps get into the most trouble by confusing the em-dash’s ability to tack on a thought with the semicolon’s use as a weighty pause.

Even reading Garner has not made this entirely clear to me. Sometimes punctuation is simply an art.

What about you? Is this your quandary, also? Have I used my semicolons and em-dashes correctly in this post?

Overkill for lawyers

There’s a bit of a trope when it comes to lawyers and technology: whenever Apple or Microsoft or Google has a big event, a hundred posts appear explaining what it means “for lawyers.” How might lawyers use the Apple Watch? What about Google Glass in the courtroom? Most of these posts don’t say anything unique, because in reality lawyers are affected by gadgets exactly the same as everyone else. That is, lawyers get the same lust in their eyes for the shiny new tech and like to write about it.

I say unabashedly: This is one of those posts. It’s a not-so-serious look at Microsoft’s recent event. I write it not because I think the event had anything special for lawyers (quite the contrary), but because it’s fun. If you want the best “for lawyers” advice, go read Sam Glover’s advice to just buy anything that’s new and not cheap. Lawyers aren’t engineers, architects, or digital artists—the professional creatives targeted by the event—so the stuff announced is extreme overkill for a law practice.

Still, you might like nice things, and you might be curious about where Microsoft and Windows 10 are heading. In that case, read on!

Windows 10

Microsoft has dubbed the next major update to Windows 10 “The Creators Update.” The October 26 event accordingly focused on creative types.

Non-creative people have only a couple quality-of-life improvements to look forward to. I like the idea of having contacts on the taskbar, making it easier to communicate and share. OneDrive file placeholders are coming back, and the action center may get mildly more useful. That’s about it.

New surface computers

The very shiniest gadget is the new Surface Studio. It’s a desktop all-in-one PC with a 28″ 5k screen, fast internals, a pen, a new Surface Dial accessory, and a $3000-4000 price tag. No, your law office doesn’t need one—but you wouldn’t complain. Microsoft also announced a higher-end Surface Book laptop, with a little more oomph and a lot more battery.

One thing I do like, as someone who edits a lot of legal writing, is the pen combined with real-life scale on the Surface Studio. Microsoft designed the computer to display documents at true scale—so, for example, if you open an 8.5″ x 11″ memo in Word, it will take up 8.5″ x 11″ of your screen. That should obliterate any desire to print a document, which is still sometimes necessary when you need a broader view.

Working with words

I’m also somewhat excited that pen editing gestures are coming to Microsoft Office. There’s something about editing with a pen—it’s more active, engaged, brings out more of the art with words. Using a mouse, keyboard, and Track Changes feels cold and distanced by comparison, and sometimes I can tell it hampers creativity.

I’m also curious about the new Surface Dial accessory. It looks more useful for drawing than word processing, but I could see it being used in a number of ways. It seems to serve the function of a mouse wheel, just better and with more flexibility. Using it to flip pages in a Word document or finely control the zoom could make a generally laborious computer task—browsing through multiple screens of information—more intuitive, nimble, and ergonomic. The Dial will work with other Surface computers, too, so I might get a chance to see for myself (I own a Surface Pro 4).

Twitter 101 for bar association people

Continuing with the spark I got from Kevin O’Keefe last week, I’ve been trying to up my Twitter game. I got some great practice during the Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference (you can see my noobish tweets under #WSSFC). I admit that I don’t have the hang of it yet. The most difficult thing, for me, is engaging others without sounding annoying or obsequious.

It’s a good thing, then, that the social media advice from Kevin O’Keefe just keeps coming. While I was at WSSFC he was attending the National Association of Bar Executives Communication Workshop (#NABECOMM16), sharing some great nuggets of social media wisdom:

More recently Kevin tweeted a link to a new Twitter 101 post by Niki Black over at MyCase. It’s a great introduction for lawyers. What follows is my distillation of her main points and my thoughts applying the article to bar association leaders/employees.

Twitter is good for attorneys who:

  1. Have potential clients who use Twitter;
  2. Would like to network with other attorneys across the country with similar practice areas;
  3. Want to connect with local/national media; or
  4. Want to keep up with new & info useful to their practice.

For bar association leaders, Twitter is even more of a no-brainer. Attorneys use Twitter. Other bar associations really use Twitter—and there’s a valuable network to have. Connecting with the media is an obvious good. And keeping up with news and trends is an essential part of the job.

To get started:

  • Choose a username based on your name, not your law firm’s. People prefer to interact with other people, not entities.
  • Write a bio that mentions your firm and 1-2 personal interests. Show that you’re a unique person with interests.
  • Include your law firm’s website link.
  • Find people to follow.
  • Set up Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.

Heed that first suggestion! Bar association leaders: you need to be on Twitter, as real people with real personalities. A “State Bar of X” account is fine and useful, but it’s not really going to be social. Here’s a golden opportunity to show your members that their bar association is made up of real people with real personalities who work hard to serve lawyers.

I would also add, on a practical note, that you should check out Buffer for scheduling posts and creating visuals, and goo.gl for shortening links you want to share.

Start tweeting.

  • Link to your firm’s latest blog post.
  • Link to news of interest.
  • Tweet about any topic that interests you.
  • Engage in conversations by replying and retweeting.

Your tweets should be:

  • 50% links to other people’s content
  • 30% interactions with others
  • 20% promoting your own content

These are the basics, and there’s not much to add. As I mentioned above, engaging in conversations seems the most difficult part—though maybe not if you’re more opinionated than I am. Retweeting things with a comment is one of the easier ways to participate. Try not to take the conversations too seriously; the medium is informal and not suited to nuance. It will certainly give you practice in getting quickly to the bottom line! The most important thing, I think, is to not be too hesitant or fearful—don’t worry, nobody’s following you at first, and your tweet will be quickly buried by the avalanche that is everyone’s feed.

Always think before you tweet!

This is the one caveat to what I just said about being hesitant and fearful. Tweets are entirely public, so they do require a modicum of judgment. If you wouldn’t say it at a crowded bar association event, don’t put it online. But don’t be afraid, either, to say something controversial or provocative! Those are the things that need to be said, and they can be said as one person’s opinion even when they cannot be said as the official statement of a bar association. In fact, that’s how you start a conversation, and isn’t that why we’re on Twitter in the first place?

For further reading/viewing, Niki’s post links to two MyCase webinars by Gyi Tsakalakis and Kevin O’Keefe, both worth checking out.