Archive for the 'Lawyering' Category

Family Law Burnout

Lee Rosen of Divorce Discourse posted on reaching a breaking point in family law. One of the readers commented that having another practice area can help and Rosen commented that it would only work for lawyers smart enough to handle two practice areas. My response was as follows:

I have never viewed it as being smart enough to handle more than one practice area but more of a necessity as a small town attorney. While there are practice areas which I do not handle, e.g. bankruptcy or social security, it is generally accepted in our area that attorneys handle more than one practice area. While reading your post I had the same thought as Mr. Sanderson that it is easier to avoid burnout when I can scale back my family law cases and take on cases in other areas. While I agree that it would be great to be able to focus on only one practice area, I believe there are some benefits to a varied practice so long as you are providing competent representation.

Your timeline seems accurate, I have been practicing for six years now and I do not do as much family law work at the moment. I have tried to do a better job of screening clients on the front end and establishing boundaries so I get paid and so I get fewer Sunday night phone calls when the visitation exchange did not go perfectly by the court order but the kid did come back in one piece. I think client screening is one of the most important skills regardless of practice area to maintain sanity in the workplace for attorneys and the staff that will interact with those clients.

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I highly recommend Rosen’s site and have linked to it from the inception of this site. For those of you interested in technology in the law firm, he has many excellent posts and podcasts that have helped me in my position as honorary IT manager of my small firm.

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The iPad as a Laptop Replacement

I bought an iPad two weeks ago. I had been considering the purchase since the product was announced and did a fair amount of research on the product so that I would know what I was getting. Plus I already have an iPhone so I am very familiar with the interface, and so are my kids, as I’ll discuss. I have read many articles complaining that the iPad is nothing more than a huge iPhone and cannot replace a laptop for getting work done. I agree to some extent, but the fact that the iPad is like a huge iPhone is appealing to me because I like the touchscreen interface. At this point I would not scrap the laptop completely but I can see myself using my iPad for things that I used to use my netbook or bigger laptop.

I did buy the Apple Wireless Keyboard and find that it greatly improves my ability to draft longer items. The keyboard is very thin and light and is very easy to bring along with you. I find typing on the iPad screen very similar to typing on the iPhone and I have already become fairly comfortable but the wireless keyboard is much faster and allows for touch typing whereas the iPad screen keyboard seems to work better when I use more of a two finger approach.

I recently went on vacation and opted to take my iPad instead of my netbook. Here is a brief list of how I used my iPad on my vacation:

Viewing PDF files

As I have discussed before, my office has digital client files along with the paper files. I was able to load my iPad with files to review on the plane. I also loaded some magazines that I had scanned. Viewing PDF files is a much better experience on the iPad than on a netbook or laptop because of the ability to rotate the screen to read the document in portrait view rather than landscape.

Pictures

We took a lot of pictures on our trip. I used the Apple Camera Connection Kit and we were able to load pictures taken on our digital camera card and our iPhones for viewing on the iPad. The pictures look amazing on the iPad.

TV shows

I bought a season of an HBO series that I had not yet seen. It helped pass the time on the plane (when I was supposed to be viewing those client files, remember) until Thing 1 decided she wanted to watch some of the shows I had loaded on it for her. She is five years old and had no problem navigating the video app to view her shows because she is already a notch below expert at using my iPhone.

Internet Browsing

Once we were at our destination, I used the Safari app extensively to check out restaurants and attractions in addition to keeping track of the goings on with Facebook.

Kindle

The Kindle app is nice. I have a Kindle which I brought with me to use for reading outside. I also have the app on my iPhone. It is nice to be able to pick up wherever I left off on any of the platforms. I had a travel guide-book that I could use on my iPad and iPhone on my trip.

VPN + RDP

This is the thing that for me make this close to a laptop replacement. I was able to set up a VPN tunnel to our server and then use a remote desktop app to log in to my computer and the server from my iPad. There were a few issues that came up while I was out of the office and I was able to log in to the server and fix them without any problem as if  I was physically in the office. The connection is a little slow over the cellular connection but was workable and was even better when connected to Wi-Fi.

Conclusion

I often leave my bigger laptop docked at my office now anyway and would use my netbook to remote connect if needed. I still have my netbook and will probably still use it from time to time but now that I can use my iPad to remote connect I see less of  a need for the netbook. The iPad really provides a much better viewing experience than the netbook, especially for PDF files and pictures. One of the best things about traveling with the iPad was the ease of traveling with an iPad. The charging source is much smaller than with a laptop, the iPad itself is much thinner and lighter than a laptop, and I did not have to take it out of my carry-on bag at security. Unfortunately, I did still have to take off my shoes.

Steinbrenner family might face tax battle

ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, posted an article titled Family of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner might face tax battle – ESPN New York. As my loyal reader(s) may recall, this is something I touched on a few months ago in a short post which was cleverly titled: Certainties: Death – Yes, Taxes – Probably, Death Taxes – Depends.

The ESPN article points out that there are legislators attempting to enact legislation which would allow for the retroactive collection of estate taxes. This hardly seems fair or, as attorneys like to say, equitable. We are governed by the rule of law. The current laws read that there are no estate taxes due for deaths that occur in the year 2010. If Congress wanted to require the payment of estate taxes it had years to get something done before the repeal kicked in. They failed to do so. It is also their inaction which will allow the estate tax to pick back up in 2011 with lower exclusion amounts and higher rates than the year 2009. At least we know the rules and can plan for 2011.

Seatbelt Laws Suck

Over Memorial Day weekend law enforcement across the country took part in the “click it or ticket” campaign, issuing tickets to unbuckled motorists. Why is it the government’s job to protect me from myself? I have no problem with laws that penalize adults who fail to buckle children. If I am in an accident and am injured or killed because I was not wearing a seatbelt that was the consequence of my actions. I could also be injured or killed while wearing my seatbelt. There is no direct impact on the public whether I am wearing it or not.

But I have a big problem with police being able to use a driver’s lack of seat belt use as a basis to initiate a traffic stop which can lead to the officer finding evidence of other crimes. I routinely speak with clients that are facing felony drug charges from traffic stops that began as a failure to wear their seatbelt.

I routinely wear my seatbelt on the highway and in bigger cities but I want that choice to be my own, free from concern whether my decision will result in a roadside interrogation simply because I chose not to wear it.

After You Clean Your Desk, Clean Your Office (and Your Computer)

Lawyerist.com seems to have a theme going. Today I read Improve Your Practice with an Uncluttered Office which also referenced the clean desk article I previously discussed. One point of the article is that clutter wastes time and the author states that “Even “paperless” offices can have computer clutter, making it difficult to find a particular form, template or motion that you know you did, but that you cannot remember where or how you saved it.”

I think that digital clutter is even more of a problem that physical clutter. There is only so much space to hold physical junk, even the people profiled on A&E’s show Hoarders have to cram their belongings into whatever size space they have available. But with digital junk it is much easier to let things pile up, even if you do not have a medically diagnosed pathological condition (but if you do, here are some resources).  Hard drive space is relatively cheap these days and it is so easy to save multiple drafts of documents, scan every piece of paper that enters your life and worst of all copy all of these files to another folder so that you end up with multiple versions of the same file.

I spent hours yesterday, letting the process run in the background while I did actual legal work,  transferring files from several different external hard drives onto one big network drive and I plan to go through the files at some point to purge duplicate and unneeded files. Our office servers have not been cleaned up in quite a while either but it seems like such a daunting task to undertake. I am probably the only person in the office who knows how much open hard drive space we have and I’m sure there are few people around the office that give any thought to creating duplicate files, either intentionally or by accident.

Another reason I think digital clutter is worse than physical clutter is the time required to sort and review the files, especially if they have nondescript file names. I can pick up a stack of paper and run through it pretty quickly to see that it can all be trashed but it could take considerably more time to process a group of Word document or PDF files if the file names do not provide enough information. I am still looking for some quality file preview software that would allow me to see what the file contains without having to open the file in the native program. I have used Explorer View with good results but I am interested to see what other people are using on their Windows computers for this function. I am also in need of some affordable (or free) duplicate file fixing software that can scan network drives.

How do you handle digital clutter? What are your recommendations for software to help with this problem? I would appreciate any insight you have.

Desk: Clean It Off or Pile It Up?

I admit it, I have mild anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I had to travel out of town yesterday and today for court and as entertainment for the drive I listened some podcasts from the David Allen Company on Getting Things Done. When I got back to my office I read a post by Kendra Brodin entitled Productivity… and a Clean Desk on Lawyerist.com. These kind of things interest me. Sometimes it is more interesting thinking about how to process and organize the things I need to do than actually doing the thing.

I agree that having a clean desk is helpful for my productivity. My problem is I work with slobs. They would rather pile file upon file on their desk until they cannot even use their desk as anything other than a visual reminder of all of the things that they have to do. Somehow they are able to function in this environment, but I agree with Ms. Brodin that they would be more productive with a clean desk.

Why should I care if their desks are clean? I’ll give you a reason, it causes more work for me. The slobs tend to lose more files which at a minimum means they will stop in my office to see if the file is in my office. But a deeper problem is the perception that I am not working as hard. Because they associate having a big pile of unorganized chaos sitting on their desk as an indication of all the things that need completed, they view my clean desk as an indication that I am getting very proficient at mine sweeper or solitaire. Obviously I am not busy since I can see the wood grain on my desk.

I have given up on trying to change the slobs, but I sometimes wonder if I should throw a stack of files on my desk every once in a while and maybe even have some boxes of files strewn about on the floor. I would wager that such an environment would make the slobs think that I am hard at it but in reality I would find it near impossible to concentrate on the task at hand.

So, who is right? Clean it off or pile it up? Does a clean desk enhance or hinder productivity?

Certainties: Death – Yes, Taxes – Probably, Death Taxes – Depends

I met with a couple yesterday for some preliminary information on estate planning and once again I had to explain that things are not very clear at the moment regarding estate taxes. In 2009, the federal estate tax exemption was $3.5 million with a 45% tax rate. In 2010 there is an unlimited exemption as the estate tax has been repealed. Some have said that 2010 is a great year to die if you have a multi-million dollar estate. In 2011, unless Congress changes the law, the exemption level will fall to $1 million with a 55% tax rate.

I came across an estate tax internet resource guide put together by Trusts and Estates magazine that has articles on the fate of the estate tax and suggestions for practitioners. The article at the end puts a damper on the whole “die in 2010” plan as the TaxProf Blog points out that the re-enactment of the estate tax in 2010, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, likely would pass constitutional muster.