I dedicated my first book, The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers, to the best teachers I had in high school, college, law school and two mentors I encountered later who influenced me greatly. Of these, the most important was probably my high school teacher, Freida Riley.
The preface to a new book I am writing about knowledge management for law firms uses things Freida Riley taught me to make a point about efficiency and lawyers:
I first learned about the joy of efficiency from my high school Geometry teacher, Miss Frieda Riley. On submitting a proof for her approval, her usual reaction would be: “It’s OK. Can you do better?” What she meant was make it simpler, more streamlined, more efficient.
If better insights came to me, I would hear words every student yearns to hear: “That’s good, Jerry. That’s what we are looking for.” Miss Riley prized efficiency, what mathematicians call “elegance.” She showed me what poet Edna St. Vincent had in mind when she wrote: “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.”
Valedictorian of her high school and college classes, Frieda Riley could have been a star teacher at virtually any school in the country. She chose to return to her home in the southern West Virginia coal fields. She blessed the students of Big Creek High School with new insights, better ways of thinking and approaching problems.
Fried Riley died of Hodgkin’s Disease at age 31. Today she is honored in the National Museum of Education, but her most important legacy is the countless students she inspired–and equipped–to meet challenges.
Homer Hickam was one of these students. He escaped the coal fields to become a NASA engineer. Miss Riley played a prominent role in his memoir, “Rocket Boys.” It was later made into the 1999 movie named “October Sky.” Laura Dern played the Miss Riley role. Dern did a great job, but the real Miss Riley was oh so much better.
My Miss Riley-inspired yearning for efficiency accompanied me to many places, including a private law firm and later several federal agencies. I observed many attempts at knowledge management, good and bad. Efficiency was a rare commodity in most knowledge management efforts, effectiveness even more so. The main feature most had in common was a failure to meet expectations. Many were complete failures.
By this point the more impatient reader will be asking, “What does one man’s idiosyncratic fetish for efficient knowledge management have to do with me and my law firm?” The answer is simple:
Improved, more efficient knowledge management is probably the most promising way for most law firms to become more effective, to improve their bottom line.
The grail of knowledge management is elusive. There are more potential pitfalls than easy shortcuts. In this book I have done my best to provide tools that can help you find the best approaches, the ones most adaptable to you and your law firm.
We hope you enjoy the adventure and find it rewarding. Our challenge to you is:
I’ve written and spoken about technology and the practice of law for a number of years. My publications include The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers (ABA 1999) and scores of articles about legal technology. Since retiring last year, I use this website to support professional projects and an occasional Off the Clock topic.
To avoid having personal information available via the Internet, I make my resume is available only on request. Let me know by a comment posted below why you would like a copy and I will forward. Include your email address in your request, but it will not appear in the comment section.
Although it is a few years old, Patrick DiDomenico’s book, Knowledge Management for Lawyers (ABA 2015) remains a key resource for lawyers interested in improving their bottom line through increased efficiency.
This fine book provides a methodical approach to developing law firm intranets, key KM tools.
I found the section on the Army lawyer (Judge Advocate General, AKA “JAG”) approach to KM to be particularly useful. It contains insights that would be useful in just about any government or corporate law office, as well as many private law firms.
Could the book be improved? Is there any book that could not be improved in some way? I offer two suggestions for possible inclusion in future editions of this fine book:
Modify the writing style to make it more engaging to readers. Most people are too busy to read books that sound like textbooks.
Place more emphasis on the importance of human factors on effective knowledge management. Like most KM books, whether oriented toward lawyers or the private sector, the book does not contain as much material on this key topic as it deserves.
Have you observed trainers doing things like this?
Before beginning her presentation, a trainer tells the audience, “I had planned to show you this wonderful video with actors from The Office singing this song “Let’s Get Ethical,” to the tune of “Let’s Get Physical.” Unfortunately, I can’t get the DVD to work, so I can’t show it, but let me tell you, it would be really funny if you could see it.”
Yes, I actually saw a trainer do just this a few years ago. This example brings to mind the “Never complain, never explain” rule. I’ve seen this pithy saying variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Ford and Katherine Hepburn. Regardless of the originator, it always struck me as a little dubious. “Never?” Isn’t that a recipe for being a jerk?
However, with a little adjustment for rhetorical excess, this saying does describe a sound principle for instructors. It’s nearly always a mistake to apologize to the audience. In the example described, the trainer was smart to try to use a training aid, but when that did not pan out, she unwisely demonstrated to the audience not just her incompetence with technology, but her poor judgment. If she had never apologized for failing to get the DVD to work, the audience would never have known of her failure. Experienced presenters understand that in many cases the audience will never know if the speaker made a mistake unless he or she draws attention to the error by apologizing.
The same principle applies to other mistakes made during your presentation, explains speech expert Richard Zeoli:
When you make a mistake, no one cares but you: Even the most accomplished public speaker will make mistakes. Yet it is important to remember that the only one who cares about any given mistake is the one doing the speaking.
People’s attention spans constantly wander. In fact, most people only absorb about 20 percent of a speaker’s message. The other 80 percent is internalized visually. This ratio is true in nearly everything: a football game, a favorite television show, and even a heart-to-heart conversation. The point is that when you make a mistake, the audience rarely even notices. The most important thing a speaker can do after making a mistake is to keep going. Don’t stop and – unless the mistake was truly earth shattering – never apologize to the audience for a minor slip. Unless they are reading the speech during your delivery, the audience won’t know if you left out a word, said the wrong name, or skipped a page.
“Never” apologize? Probably a mistake. “Almost never” apologize? Sounds about right.
Since the publication many years ago of Dan Gookin’s DOS for Dummies, the first book in the successful Dummies line of technical books, I’ve been ambivalent about the company’s naming and marketing strategy. However, when a book’s content is good enough, who cares about the name?
When I began giving important presentations in the mid-90s, I was not the world’s most confident public speaker. I pretty much read, or at least surveyed, just about every instructional book I could find. Presentations for Dummies was by far the best practical reference I found, and I have not encountered a better book since.
While “humor consultant” author Malcolm Kushner includes some technical information (including obscure-but-useful tips), he focuses on human factors and practical pointers. The current edition is a revision of the 1996 original (“Successful Presentations for Dummies”). These links to the Dummies.com website provide examples of Kushner’s down-to-earth approach:
My take: There’s still plenty of room for lawyer blogs. Just as Kevin O’Keefe, of Real Lawyers Have Blogs fame. Indeed, comment features mean blogs could be considered a type of social media, a type that has significant advantages for both operators and users.
How many times have you attended training where the trainer seemed nervous, skeptical, just going through the motions, or otherwise acting like they just didn’t want to be there? Perhaps there were attempts at self-deprecating humor, like referring to how much coffee the trainer would need to get through the training?
When we pause for reflection, we intuitively realize that trainer behavior like this cannot be good. An article by Dr. Brian Fitch for police trainers in the December 2010 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin entitled “Attitudes and Performance: The Impact of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies” explains that multiple scientific studies confirm what our intuition tells us:
Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that, on average, educators’ assumptions do influence the actions and achievements of their pupils. If teachers anticipate that students will succeed, they usually do. On the other hand, when they expect learners to perform poorly, they often are not disappointed. In either case, pupils rise to the level of teacher expectations—either positive or negative. Generally speaking, trainers who anticipate more from students by setting higher standards, providing encouragement, and offering positive feedback inspire higher levels of performance than those who lack faith in the ability and motivation of their charges.
While the earliest studies began with school-age children, subsequent research has examined the role of instructor suppositions with salespeople, athletes, pilots, law enforcement officers, and military personnel. [Footnote omitted].
Perhaps the most instructive message in Dr. Fitch’s article is the emphasis on non-verbal communications from instructor:
Studies in communication and psychology have suggested that people rely on three channels to convey their emotions.
Verbal (words and phrases)
Paralanguage (tone, pitch, and volume)
Nonverbal (facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures, posture, and distance)
What is surprising, however, is the relatively minor role played by the spoken word in communicating emotion. In fact, communication studies have indicated that the majority of emotions, including how instructors truly feel about a student’s performance and potential, are communicated nonverbally. More specifically, fully 55 percent of the emotional impact of a communicator’s message is nonverbal, with 38 percent accounted for by paralanguage and only 7 percent explained by spoken words.
The apparent power of nonverbal communication reinforces the importance of sending consistent messages. When instructors say one thing but broadcast a different message nonverbally, they invariably undermine the credibility of their communication. For example, law enforcement firearms trainers can significantly undermine their effectiveness by telling students that anyone can shoot well while, at the same time, displaying subtle cues of frustration, such as exhaling deeply, looking disgusted, or speaking in a patronizing voice to recruits having trouble attaining a qualifying score.
Students, however, are surprisingly adept at picking up nonverbal cues, such as subtle changes in facial expression, eye contact, posture, or tone of voice. If instructors send mixed messages, learners invariably will pay greater attention to the nonverbal one, especially if it is negative. [Emphasis added, footnotes omitted]:
Of course, these instructional principles apply just as well to standards of conduct training. If your body language and other cues send the message that the training will be boring and worthless, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. You must make sure your nonverbal communications are not undermining your verbal training message.
Mere awareness of this potential trap should go a long way toward preventing the problem. In future Training Tips columns we will address methods for building confidence and other techniques that should further strengthen performance. In the meantime, we welcome your suggestions in the Comments section below.