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Book Review: The Education of a Lawyer

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Book Review: The Education of a Lawyer."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Book Review: The Education of a Lawyer 

Gary Muldoon is an attorney I’ve known and respected ever since I first moved to Rochester in 1995 when I was a young, recent law school graduate. I was introduced to him shortly after arriving in Rochester and a few months later I was hired by the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. During my tenure there, I constantly referred to the wealth of knowledge in his book, “Handling a Criminal Case in New York.”


In fact, over the years, I’ve learned a lot from his books and writings (and Gary has even occasionally provided me with great tips about interesting cases for this column), so I was honored when he reached out to me earlier this year to ask me to review a draft of a manuscript that would soon be published by the American Bar Association.

That book was recently published and I’m fortunate enough to have received a review copy. So, I figured the least I could do would be to review it!

His newly published book, “The Education of a Lawyer,” is targeted toward law students and young lawyers and provides a wealth of information about becoming the lawyer you want to be. It’s a timeless book that covers all aspects of a legal career, starting with advice for aspiring and current law students and ending with advice about lawyering and life.

In the first chapter, he offers his thoughts and perspective on the law school process, including this sage piece of advice: “Resist the temptation to use legal expressions in your everyday speech. Come October, don’t say, “Prima facie, it would appear that the Yankees will win the Series.” (This sentence improves only marginally when “Red Sox” is substituted.)

He ends this chapter with a list of recommended reading that would benefit and be of interest to both aspiring and current lawyers. You should definitely check it out.

Next, he addresses the job search, covering the many options available to recent graduates, ranging from seeking employment with a firm to starting your own practice. Importantly, he stresses how important it is to take action when seeking employment: “When a job opportunity comes up and it’s something you want, don’t lollygag.”

Then, he moves on to what lawyers do next: practice law. He covers the nuts and bolts of being a good lawyer, no matter where you work or what your areas of practice. For example, he stresses the importance of being on time, having a positive attitude, wisely choosing CLEs, and emphasizes the always-important skill of drafting CYA letters.

He also discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the different types of lawyering, from BigLaw to Small Law to working for the government.

Of course he includes chapters on trial and written advocacy, with all sorts of useful tips for lawyers seeking to improve their oral and writing skills. He explains the importance of never being satisfied and always working to be the best lawyer that you can be.

Finally, he discusses the importance of relationships, both personal and professional. He covers work/life balance, sustaining healthy client relationships, maintaining civility with colleagues, and the importance of getting on the good side of court clerks and courtroom deputies.

In short, Gary covers an incredible amount of information that is of vital importance to young lawyers embarking on a career in the legal profession. That being said, my one criticism is the same as my earlier comment about the book: It’s timeless.

In other words, it’s chock full of useful information—nearly all of which would have been just as applicable 15 years ago as it is today. This is because Gary gives barely a passing nod to the effects of technology on the practice of law.

Certainly technology has not fundamentally changed lawyering, but it has changed the business of lawyering. For that reason, an essential building block to a successful legal career in the 21st century requires at least a basic understanding of how technology fits into — and is changing — the ways that lawyers are practicing law and competing in the legal marketplace.

Granted, my perspective on this is unique, but even so, I do think it’s the one topic that deserved a chapter of its own and its addition would have added to the value of the book.

Of course, even without a chapter on technology, it’s a great, informative book that would make a wonderful gift for the aspiring lawyer or recent law graduate in your life. And, it’s not just for young lawyers — even you seasoned lawyers out there can benefit from it. So pick up a copy today and learn a thing or two!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


2014 Holiday Gift Guide for the Tech-Savvy Lawyer

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "2014 Holiday Gift Guide for the Tech-Savvy Lawyer ."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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 2014 Holiday Gift Guide for the Tech-Savvy Lawyer  

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again: It’s time to start buying gifts for the technology-loving lawyer in your life. But never fear, my holiday gift guide is here! Hopefully you’ll find a few new ideas to help you round out your holiday gift-giving list.

First, for the traveling lawyer in your life, consider buying a portable laptop stand. These devices raise laptops up to eye level, reducing both neck and eye strain. My favorite laptop stand is the Aidata LHA-3 LAPstand Aluminum Portable Laptop Stand, which currently retails for $35.65 on Amazon. This stand folds flat for storage, but when set up, its dimensions are 5”H x 12.5”W x 9.5”D. It’s incredibly easy to reassemble and disassemble and weighs in at only 1.8 pounds, which means that this stand is easily transportable and is worth its weight in gold when it comes to reducing neck pain and eye strain.

Another great gift for the tech-savvy but forgetful lawyer in your life is Tile (thetileapp.com). It’s a smartphone app (iOS and Android) with accompanying computerized tag that helps you keep track of and locate items like keys or a wallet. A single Tile costs $25 and four tiles cost $70. You simply attach the small, square, white tag onto your key chain or other item or slide it into your wallet and then, when seeking to locate an item simply pull up the app on your smartphone, turn it on and follow the Bluetooth signal emitted by the Tile. What was lost is now found!

Another great gift that offers loads of value is an Amazon Prime membership. Amazon Prime costs just $99 and offers a ton of benefits — and new ones are being added all the time. With the membership you receive: free 2-day shipping on many Amazon items, access to free streaming movies and TV shows on Prime Video, ad-free unlimited access to lots of great Prime Music, unlimited photo storage, access to free books on your Kindle via the Kindle Owners Lending Library and a number of other great features. If you shop on Amazon even just occasionally, the free shipping alone pays for the cost of Prime membership.

And finally, what would a holiday gift list be without books? Here are a few suggestions for the young lawyers in your life.

First, there’s Gary Muldoon’s “The Education of a Lawyer,” which is targeted toward law students and young lawyers. This book provides a wealth of information about becoming the lawyer you want to be and covers all aspects of a legal career, starting with advice for aspiring and current law students and ending with advice about lawyering and life.

Next, there’s Jill Paperno’s book “Representing the Accused.” This book provides fledgling criminal defense lawyers with advice on just about every aspect of every stage of representing a criminal defendant. From discovery and subpoenas to cross-examination techniques and sentencing considerations, Jill provides invaluable tips and advice from the trenches throughout the book.
And last but not least, for young lawyers or for any lawyers who are considering hanging their shingles, there’s “Flying Solo, Fifth Edition: A Survival Guide for the Solo and Small Firm Lawyer,” by William Gibson. A newly updated edition of this book was published by the ABA this year and offers a comprehensive guide to establishing and maintaining a successful solo law practice. It includes a ton of practical information gathered from a wide range of contributors, including successful solo practitioners, law firm consultants, state and local bar practice management advisors, and law school professors.

Finally, if these suggestions aren’t enough for you, you can always check out The Billable Hour (thebillablehour.com), a website that offers unique gifts specifically tailored to lawyers and legal professionals.

**All of the suggestions above are based on my personal experience and preferences, but rest assured — I haven’t been compensated monetarily by any of the vendors for these recommendations, although in some cases I was provided with review copies of some of the products mentioned in this article.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


NYSBA on responding to a complaint on a website

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "The Ethics of Communicating With Your Clients Online."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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It used to be that when clients had a complaint about the legal services provided to them, their only lines of recourse were to file an ethics complaint, file a claim in court or tell a few friends about it. Sure they could try to send a letter to the editor about it, but the likelihood it would actually get published was minimal.

That was then, this is now. The Internet has completely changed the ballgame when it comes to feedback on legal services. Legal consumers now have a digital voice — and can easily magnify it by posting reviews on well-traveled sites like Yelp. Long gone are the days when feedback — both good and bad— was hidden behind closed doors. These days, for disgruntled former clients, all the world’s their stage and they can shout their complaints from the virtual rooftops.

So, what’s a lawyer to do—especially when the criticisms are unfair? That’s an issue the New York State Bar Association recently addressed in Opinion 1032 (10/30/2014).

Specifically, the inquiring attorney asked the Committee on Professional Ethics whether, when faced with an online complaint about legal services rendered, may post a response that tends to rebut the accusations by including confidential information relating to that client. In this case, a former client of a law firm who was unhappy with the services provided.

The client had not filed a grievance against the inquiring attorney nor were there any indications that the client intended to seek out any legal recourse against the attorney. But, the client did post a comment on a review website indicating that the client regretted the decision to retain the firm, that the law firm provided inadequate services and communicated inadequately, and did not achieve the client’s goals. The inquiring attorney disputed these allegations and sought to respond to the complaint by sharing facts about the client’s case, but in doing so might need to disclose confidential client information in order to fully rebut the claims.

Unfortunately for the law firm, the committee concluded that under those circumstances, it was impermissible to disclose confidential client communications. The committee’s rationale was based on the application of Rule 1.6 and case law precedent.

The committee acknowledged that in some situations, lawyers may disclose confidential information when disputing claims against them and cited Rule 1.6(b)(5)(i), which is applicable to former clients through Rule 1.9(c). According to this rule, a lawyer “may reveal or use confidential information to the extent that the lawyer reasonably believes necessary … to defend the lawyer or the lawyer’s employees and associates against an accusation of wrongful conduct.”

However, the committee noted that because the rule focused specifically on “accusations,” the exception set forth in Rule 1.6 was inapplicable: “The language of the exception suggests that it does not apply to informal complaints such as this website posting. The key word is ‘accusation,’ which has been defined as’[a] formal charge against a person, to the effect that he is guilty of a punishable offense,’ Black’s Law Dictionary 21 (5th ed. 1979), or a ‘charge of wrongdoing, delinquency, or fault,’ Webster’s Third International Dictionary Unabridged 22 (2002).”

The committee explained that the exception was intended to aid lawyers who faced serious accusations of misconduct during a formal proceeding, such as a lawsuit. In reaching its decision, the committee wisely compared the online activity to an offline corollary: “Unflattering but less formal comments on the skills of lawyers, whether in hallway chatter, a newspaper account, or a website, are an inevitable incident of the practice of a public profession, and may even contribute to the body of knowledge available about lawyers for prospective clients seeking legal advice. We do not believe that Rule 1.6(b)(5)(i) should be interpreted in a manner that could chill such discussion.”

Once again, the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics has issued a decision that demonstrates a good understanding of the online platforms involved and their impact on both our profession and our culture. There’s no doubt that the online world isn’t always an easy one for New York lawyers to navigate, but the good news is that our bar association is leading the way by offering guidance through well-reasoned, thoughtful decisions grounded in a solid understanding of the realities of life —and lawyering— in the 21st century.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.