Productivity Tips

Perform Online Legal Research Without Spending a Dime 

Working on a budget?

ABA Law Practice Today has an article by Judy Davis and Carole Levitt explaining a variety of ways to perform legal research at no cost. This includes:

  1. Casemaker4 and Fastcase7 — Offered through state bar associations. Both include some cite checking.
  1. Google Scholar — Surprising number of cases and articles about law.

Social Media for Lawyers

Catching Up With Social Media–Twitter

Twitter is one of the main potential tools for lawyers interested in using social media. Many, maybe most lawyers could benefit from Twitter, but not for the reasons most people think. That’s not to say all lawyers are situated to benefit from marketing via Twitter.

Confession: I used to think Twitter was stupid. In my defense, the antics of the best-known Twitter user are enough to give many the same impression.

After learning more about it and tentatively putting a toe into the water, one thing has become clear:

While Twitter definitely has potential, it is not a promising way for most lawyers to promote their practice. I’m aware of only a few exceptions, including Carolyn Elefant, Greg Siskind and Dennis Kennedy. These lawyers have several things in common:

  • All had strong reputations before they began using Twitter.
  • They practice in “promotable” legal specialties (solo and small firm issues for Carolyn, immigration law for Greg and legal technology for Dennis).
  • They had successful blogs before beginning to use Twitter.
  • They have the insights, writing skills and personalities to thrive in this environment.

Lawyers without similar advantages will find that it’s hard to market on Twitter. It’s hard to attract “followers.” Without an audience, speaking is pointless.

The biggest benefit of Twitter that I have found is not “speaking” but “listening.” Learn from others first. Be a follower before you even think about using it as a platform to spread your own ideas.

Determining If Twitter Is Right for You

For years the dominant philosophy of surgical training was known as “See One, Do One, Teach One.” Many doctors are beginning to ask whether this approach is the best for patient safety, but there is a core of wisdom here applicable to lawyers:

  • Step One: Watch other Twitter users.
  • Step Two: Try it yourself. Take baby steps.

After completing steps One and Two, you will be able to decide whether you can “teach,” meaning in this context, use Twitter for marketing.

This approach has many advantages, including: Learning Twitter dynamics by close observation. This will help you decide whether you have the potential to use Twitter for marketing, like Elefant, Siskind and Kennedy, who are all exceptions to the general rule.

How to Get Started

The single best reference Twitter reference I know for lawyers interested in social media is not a website, but on paper:

Jared Correia’s book Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013). Some technical issues have changed in the seven years since this book was published, but the book’s advice about issues specific to lawyers means it is still a great resource for lawyers.

Suppose you are interested in learning to use Twitter as a source of information, or for marketing. The best place to start is Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers. It gives some advice on getting started and tips on more advanced topics. We’ll look at this book and its lessons more closely in future posts.

Presentation Tips

Presentation Tip 9: Lightening Talks

Are you tired of speakers who drone on and on? Maybe a compressed format would be right for you. Compressed presentation formats known as lightening talks can provide a welcome alternative.

  • Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) is known as the 20×20 format. Each presenter shows 20 images, each for 20 seconds.
  • Ignite gives each speaker gets 5 minutes and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds. This forces speakers to get the point quickly. 

These formats are constraining but so the rules for sonnets. Lightening talks may be just right for your next conference.

Any of these formats require more preparation than a conventional speech. Olivia Mitchell has some advice on preparing an Ignite presentation.

Social Media for Lawyers

Lawyer Use of Social Media

This page is our anchor for content concerning lawyer use of social media. We’ll be covering the use of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogs as well as related Legal Ethics issues. The latest updates are available at our blog‘s’s Social Media category.

We’ll be begin by taking a look at the best available reference for lawyer use of social media in general:

Googling the phrase “social media for lawyers” will bring up a variety of online publications addressing this topic, but a 10 year old book may make a better starting point: Social Media for Lawyers The Next Frontier, by Carolyn Elefant and Nicole Black.

Lots of things have changed over the past 10 years, but their explanation of why all lawyers need to understand the basics of social media and some could benefit by using it has yet to be topped.

While parts of it are outdated, this book remains a great starting point for lawyers trying to catch up with social media and how it affects their legal practices.


Carolyn Elefant’s Solo & Small Law Firm Guide to Surviving in a Time of COVID

Carolyn Elefant’s Covid guide for solo and small law firms is up to her usual high quality:

Solo & Small Law Firm Guide to Surviving in a Time of COVID

Presentation Tips

Presentation Tip 9: Benefits of Using Question Forms

One of my favorite presentation techniques is using forms for audience members to ask questions. Left to my own devices, I would never have realized the value of this technique, but having seen it used very effectively in several CLE programs I did for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, I became a believer. I now use the technique for the reasons PBI used it, and have found multiple other benefits. A sample question form appears at left.

The PBI programs I did drew large audiences, many of whom were eager to ask questions. PBI staff circulated among the audience collecting the forms and delivered them to the panel moderator. While one panelist was answering a question, the other panelists, led by the moderator, would quickly study other written questions, decide which ones had the most intructional value, who would address them, and prepare their answers.  

 Why Use Forms?

Rambling, disjointed answers are one of the most annoying presentation flaws. The use of question forms facilitates large improvements:

Giving panelists time to think about their answers and decide which panelist(s) could answer most effectively results in enormously more concise and useful answers.

This was only the beginning of the benefits, however. Audience members sometimes use questions not to seek knowledge, but to advance personal agendas. The use of question forms gives the speaker or moderator (if a panel) better control over the situation. If there is not enough time to answer all questions, those questions motivated by personal agendas get the lowest priority.

There are many other benefits to using question forms. It’s more democratic, as the audience members with the most instructive questions may not be the most assertive in getting the moderator’s attention. Experience over a decade using this technique has convinced me that written questions tend to be more thoughtful than spoken questions. 

Especially where I will be teaching similar classes in the future, I find it invaluable to keep a record of the audience’s concerns. The questions frequently stimulate my thinking on the topic, causing me to add modules to future training programs or use the ideas in other ways.  Many of the best ideas I’ve used in writing books and magazine articles were prompted by questions asked during various seminars.

Optional or Mandatory?

Should you answer only questions submitted on written forms? In large groups or where there is heavy audience interest in the topic, this may be the best way.

Post-Presentation Questions

Some speakers might like audience question forms because they enable the speaker to avoid unwelcome subjects. In some situations, this might be appropriate, but it’s not the way I use question forms.  I normally volunteer to take additional questions from the floor as well. I also usually tell the audience that I will distribute answers to all remaining unanswered questions after the conference. I answer all the questions, but in a way that gives me better control. 

Of course, the best way to answer post-conference questions is via a website or blog that you control and want to expose to audiences. This is called “killing two birds with one stone.”

Presentation Tips

Presentation Tip 8: How Bad is PowerPoint?

Bashing Powerpoint is nothing new. Yale professor Edward Tufte devoted a pamphlet setting out his gripes. Tufte even cites it as a key factor in the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster.

Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint from Amazon meetings.

Peter Norvig’s mocking vision of the Gettysburg Address translated into a slide show is hilarious.

Others believe it “may be the worst business tool ever created.”

These criticisms are close enough to sting, but the truth is more complicated. Strong presenters tend to use Powerpoint effectively. The difference between effective users and the typical poor users is less technical knowledge and more basic presentation skills. If you take slide shows away from poor speakers they will typically be even worse.

We’ll be looking this issue more closely in our Presentation Tips series, but for now, we’ll only make one point:

Powerpoint can be a fantastic tool–if you know how to use it.

Marketing Productivity Tips

How Carolyn Elefant Does It

Never stop thinking, never stop working.

No wonder we can’t keep up with this woman.


Security Risks of 5G Cellphone Standard

Plenty of misunderstandings and oversimplified views of 5G cellphone security risks. Here’s the intro to Bruce Schneier’s analysis:

The security risks inherent in Chinese-made 5G networking equipment are easy to understand. Because the companies that make the equipment are subservient to the Chinese government, they could be forced to include backdoors in the hardware or software to give Beijing remote access. Eavesdropping is also a risk, although efforts to listen in would almost certainly be detectable. More insidious is the possibility that Beijing could use its access to degrade or disrupt communications services in the event of a larger geopolitical conflict. Since the internet, especially the “internet of things,” is expected to rely heavily on 5G infrastructure, potential Chinese infiltration is a serious national security threat.

But keeping untrusted companies like Huawei out of Western infrastructure isn’t enough to secure 5G. Neither is banning Chinese microchips, software, or programmers. Security vulnerabilities in the standards­ the protocols and software for 5G­ ensure that vulnerabilities will remain, regardless of who provides the hardware and software. These insecurities are a result of market forces that prioritize costs over security and of governments, including the United States, that want to preserve the option of surveillance in 5G networks. If the United States is serious about tackling the national security threats related to an insecure 5G network, it needs to rethink the extent to which it values corporate profits and government espionage over security.

Productivity Tips

Techshow & An Alternative

There are good reasons why ABA Techshow is considered the world premiere legal technology conference, and it’s not too late to register. However, if you’re not in a position to take the time to attend, you could do a lot worse than multitasking while listening to a few episodes of Dennis and Tom’s fine podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report.