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October 2005

Continuous Partial Attention Phenomena

As I continue to dig into this NY Times article, Meet the Life Hackers, I find little gems of insight which really do state what I think that alot of us are feeling. Here is one interesting quote from a software executive who calls the phenomena "Continuous Partial Attention."

        "The upshot is something that Linda Stone, a software executive who has worked for both Apple and Microsoft, calls "continuous partial attention": we are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we never focus on anything. This can actually be a positive feeling, inasmuch as the constant pinging makes us feel needed and desired. The reason many interruptions seem impossible to ignore is that they are about relationships - someone, or something, is calling out to us. It is why we have such complex emotions about the chaos of the modern office, feeling alternately drained by its demands and exhilarated when we successfully surf the flood."

Perhaps this is why we as lawyers sometimes do our best work in the evenings or weekends when the phone isnt ringing, the emails have slowed to a drizzle and office staff arent sending us phone messages and questions which need immediate attention.

Computer vs. Brain Balance

Marion Richmond posted a comment to my post that “technology fries your brain worse than pot”. Marion hails from the resident Resonance Partnership blog she noted a NY Times (registration required) called “Meet the Life Hackers.” The just of the article is that email is both a help and a hindrance.  For as much a benefit as it provides, it can also operate as a distraction. Clive Thompson, contributing writer for the magazine,  has this interesting quote,
         “For a small cadre of computer engineers and academics, this realization has begun to raise an enticing    possibility: perhaps we can find an ideal middle ground. If high-tech work distractions are inevitable, then maybe we can re-engineer them so we receive all of their benefits but few of their downsides. Is there such a thing as a perfect interruption?”
I agree that it is critical for us to find a balance between the benefits and burdens of technology. There is no question that technology can fry your brain, that it can become addictive just like anything else. In my office, I try to balance my time between my computer cart and other areas of my office where I do productive work. If I feel myself getting sucked into my computer, I try to get up and do other necessary work which requires walking around. This breaks me from the spell that technology can put me under and helps to ensure that I am focusing on many tasks, as opposed to just one.

Client Service: Law Firm Client Surveys

Tom Collins at the MorePartnerIncome blog has this post on law firm customer service surveys, encouraging law firms to prepare them and use them.

One of those concerns is client service quality.  We know from surveys that when clients consider service, it isn’t the quality of the lawyer’s work they talk about.  They talk about poor billing practices, unreturned phone calls and their experience when visiting or calling the firm. ..

An increasing number of firms have a published Client Bill of Rights or an internal Client Service Quality Standard.  Preparing either and communicating it to everyone in the firm will make a difference. But for the best immediate impact, have the team prepare it. Depending on the size of your firm, bring together the entire staff or a quality committee. Their mission is to spell out standards for delivering quality service to the firm’s clients and that includes addressing the little things that make a big difference.

The failure to survey clients, I believe, is largely intentional by most law firms who spend a lot of energy keeping clients in the dark about their cases, strategy, budgets and expected results.  Most traditional hourly billing firms don't have any inclination to solicit feedback from their clients because they have no intention of provoking change.

Poll Finds Anticipation By Attorneys Of Billable Hour Demise

Adam Smith blog conducted an informal poll about the future of the billable hour.  To my surprise, the results showed a much higher awareness that the billable hour system is susceptible to demise.  Perhaps bloggers are simply more informed than most other attorneys.  We might suspect that devoted hourly billers failed to vote, being so busy billing hours!    Check it out ...

Also, here is another post of an email received by an antitrust lawyer at a major law firm, urging law firms to get ahead of the curve and abandon the billable hour before the client demands it.

Michigan Lawyers & Judges Disagree with WSJ Article

A poll at Michigan Lawyers Weekly, a non-partisan journal for Michigan lawyers, finds strong disagreement with the Wall Street Journal article suggesting that the Michigan Supreme Court deserves praise.   

The last I looked, almost 89% of those responding  (which would overwhelmingly be comprised of Michigan lawyers and judges, both plaintiff and defense) disagreed with the article. Of course, attorneys in Michigan already know this as defense lawyers and trial judges are as likely to make jokes about our Supreme Court as are plaintiffs lawyers. When a the state's top court becomes a political joke to the members of the bench and bar, we have to wonder if our Michigan judiciary will ever recover from the damage being done to the court's reputation.

You can vote here (bottom right of page) or see the most current poll results here.

What could be more important than where you go to work?

I have always believed that environment is a key component of our day. My life was best when I was living on the beach in Leland with my wife and first son, living on approximately $15,000 per year but living in paradise. That paradise made everything seem ok, almost no matter what.

When I re-entered the work force at my old law firm, Shaved my goatee and donned dress shoes for the first time in almost six years, I wondered about how much my environment would infect who I was. As it turns out, I would be the first to admit that my environment had a pervasive effect on virtually every aspect of my life from family, to social activities, to outlook, to anxieties, to health and virtually anything else you could think of. I helped create my environment in a way which pulled the positives from the potential that exists from any situation. I jogged to and from work because we had workout facilities and showers in the basement. I never let my kids see me in a suit and tie, because I left in my jogging clothes and returned in my jogging clothes each day. But there was only so much I could do. I wish I could say that I was a strong enough person to overcome any obstacle, and simply create any environment which suited me. But I have always been susceptible to the winds of change, to the forces which sometimes quite powerfully blow me in different directions. I wonder how many other people think that their environment is such an important part of the most important issue of quality of life?

Change Everything

The further I get away from the traditional hourly billing model, the more I allow myself to be transformed as a lawyer and as a person. Sometimes, we forget that our choices are much broader than we perceive. Often times, we feel much more constrained than we really are.

As time goes on in my new life, I find myself becoming more relaxed and willing to accept whatever comes my way. I entertain projects that simply make me feel good, even when there is no other reason to pursue it. Although I still have a long way to go, I realize that my decisions are being driven more and more by me, as opposed to circumstances or others. How much in control do you think you are of your own life?

One man’s meat is another man’s poison

The Wall Street Journal has a story praising the Michigan Supreme Court as the greatest in the land.  The logic of the author Patrick Wright (a senior legal analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where he directs the Legal Studies Project) is essentially is that this court is so 'brave and just' that it is willing to freely overturn any precedent or statute it disagrees with.  The most amazing thing is that the court's greatness is so compelling to the author that he gushes about what is effectively legislating from the bench. He states:

Respect for precedent is basic to the stability and predictability that is a prized achievement of the rule of law; but it can also turn into a rule of unreason, impeding necessary reform. Refreshingly, the Michigan Supreme Court has been willing to simply admit error and move on.

Of course, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  One persons view that a decision is in error is little more than a political preference is most (but not all) instances.  And the author of this article no doubt agrees with the political outcomes in these cases which makes supporting the court easy.  Of course, nearly all lawyers in Michigan accept that we have an extremely conservative Michigan Supreme Court, and most believe that the Court comes to the political result it wants to reach, irrespective of prior precedent or legislative language. We can easily suspect the author's prefrence by his comment suggesting that somehow prior court rulings were "impeding necessary reform." 

Keep in mind, any decision by a state supreme court can be addressed in the legislature which has the ultimate authority to make laws.  We know this process best in today's world as 'tort reform.'  Nothing can get in the way of any democratic reform of law, which comes through the legislature. What the author is really saying is that the Supreme Court has an obligation to act where the legislature has refused to do so.  Even assuming prior precedent was wrong, stare decisis compels courts to follow that law until the legislature through the democratic process sees fit to change it, except in the most extreme circumstances. The Michigan Supreme Court has unabashedly overruled or ignored prior precedent at a rate unprecedented in American jurisprudence which this iteration of the court conveniently labels as 'wrong'.'

When precedent if shelved in favor of popular politics on the state's highest court, don't the conservatives understand that the entire judiciary suffers?  When the Michigan Supreme Court someday turns left and overrules the last 10 years of overruling, will they complain about stare decisis and the importance of legal precedent?  I'm, betting yes.  What do you think?

Linear Model Of Litigation Management

Eric Parker @ the Parker | Scheer LLP Blog posted this comment to my post on case managers in litigation:

I manage an AV rated, Boston civil litigation law firm of 8 lawyers, and recently completed a long awaited reorganization of the way cases were managed my attorneys, that has shown some early signs of success.

Essentially, we changed from a "conical" case management model (each partner has a group of cases, which are managed from inception through trial by the partner, along with his/her associate, paralegal, secretary, etc.) to a "linear" model, which divided attorneys into "pre-litigation" and "litigation" group members. Pre-lit attorneys handle cases from intake through the date complaints are filed (if necessary), and litigation group members take it from there.

The purpose of this shift was to have each attorney get better at what they do. Pre-lit. attorneys learn how to better identify promising cases, prepare settlement packages, learn how to value cases, mediate better, arbitrate better, etc. On the other side, litigation members improve skills used to draft discovery, identify new theories of liability, and try cases better. Litigation members also serve as mentors to pre-litigation attorneys who -- theoretically -- will move toward the litigation group after a reasonable amount of time. So far, so good. More to follow.

This is such a great example of thinking 'outside the box.' Of course,a  firm has to be dedicated to delivering quality and results to even conceive of the litigation management model described by Eric.  Congratulations to Eric and his firm for their commitment to innovation in the practice of law.

Idiot Lawyer Has No Time To Read Blogs

Here is a great post from Marianne Richmond at the Resonance Partnership Blog.  She notes that her divorce lawyer is mystified as to why his clients do not express gratitude after he "won" their cases.  When she suggests that he read any one of several blogs on the subject (including this one, thanks Marianne), her lawyer responds that he does not have time to read blogs.  Marianne Richmond's immediate thoughts I think are right on the money.

My thought of course was: Do you really have time to not read blogs?  And I know I am at one extreme with my the answer to all of life's mysteries can be found in the blogosphere attitude....but c'mon, you want to know why, despite winning a case, your clients seem dissatisfied? Have a conversation with them...and listen; add some empathy. There you go...good start. You are in the service business....did you serve their needs? You say you "won" the case...did you have a discussion with them to define what "winning" the case was so in the end you could agree that you had won.  Oh, stop billing your clients for your mistakes, especially when it is because you didn't listen...ok, I may be going too far.

Marianne, you have not gone too far.  Perhaps you have not gone far enough.  A lawyer billing for things which turned out to be mistakes is wrong.  A lawyer who bills for things they were told not to do is wrong. Someday, it will be more than a few of us saying it.