Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Organize Your Thoughts Before Writing

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As a legal professional, you're in the business of constantly composing new writing samples - be they pleadings, speeches, client letters, or blog posts. All this writing isn't easy, especially when your goal is to finish quickly... and cover all your bases... and sway your audience... and stay within your page limit. Luckily, there are ways to improve your writing while simultaneously making the process less exhausting; the secret is planning ahead. Through strategic planning, you'll be able to convey your message in a more efficient way - which means fewer words, less time, and greater impact.


First, identify your thesis or core argument. Decide who your audience is, and define a successful outcome as it pertains to your specific application - whether you're teaching, convincing, storytelling, or summarizing.

Next, perform a thorough brain dump and write down everything you want to include in your composition, including facts, opinions, issues, ideas, assumptions, rules, conclusions and assertions. This preliminary step will give you an overview of all the elements you're working with, so you can formulate a more comprehensive and substantiated argument. Scribbles and messy notes are fine for now - as long they're legible enough to re-read later.


Once you have everything written down, use outlines to weave these strings of information together into one cohesive fabric. There are a multitude of ways to do this, but I find that bubble trees, flow charts, and traditional outlines are the easiest to create and utilize.

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Bubble trees are my favorite type of outline; I use them to create my daily to-do lists, map out my annual goals, and decide what to pack before I travel. Always start by writing your purpose, thesis, or core argument in the center circle, and drawing first-level branches for all the bigger themes or concepts.

For example, if my core argument is "MerusCase is the best legal technology on market", I might designate my first-level branches accordingly: extensive features and capabilities, affordable pricing and ease/accessibility, loyal and satisfied clients, great culture and devoted support staff, numerous product integrations and automations, high-grade security and protection protocols, and limitations of competitors.

Break down each of your first- and second-level branches until you have: a) utilized all of the relevant content from your brain dump; and b) identified specific documents, quotes, statistics, and other resources that will help you prove your point.

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Flow charts are extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of projects. When it comes to planning your writing, flow charts are particularly great for creating seamless chronology and visualizing the flow of logic that your audience will follow. Because of their flexibility, flow charts are also useful for mapping out arguments that have uncertain turning points. For example, if you don't know what approach your opposing counsel will take in court, flow charts will help your prepare for all possibilities. For a full tutorial on creating and using flowcharts, check out this guide from Creately.

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Since you are well-versed in the IRAC method, you're likely to benefit from the structural similarity of traditional (skeletal) outlines. These outlines are easy to construct, formal enough to present to your colleagues, and can be used to organize any type of writing. Because of their presence in academic writing circles, most traditional outlines follow a standardized format - but as this guide from the University of Richmond shows, they can be as broad or as detailed as you'd like.

Whichever outline format you choose, focus on ideas, concepts, and logical thinking, rather than on word choice or grammar. Go with the flow; if you're stuck on phrasing, just leave yourself a ______ or [a suggestion, synonym, or paraphrase] - then move on.


Finally, begin your composition and use your outline as a roadmap; you'll be surprised how much easier it is to write when you've already thought through the brunt of your argument. 


Posted by Sucheta Salgaonkar on Thursday January 19, 2017 0 Comments

Labels: Strategy, Law Firm Marketing, Lawyering Skills, Productivity

Monday, December 19, 2016

5 Ways to Increase Innovation in Law Firms

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Law schools teach lawyers how to come up with creative arguments when representing their clients. However, they rarely teach lawyers how to collaborate and innovate to improve the practice of law, or to improve their work environment. Innovation can help foster new ideas on how to improve work-life balance, how to work less and bill more, how to market the law firm and how to improve client satisfaction. New ideas benefit both lawyers and their clients alike.

Here are 5 ways that lawyers and law firms can increase innovation in law firms:

Set Firm-Wide Goals & Share Them With Everyone

If you share your overall firm goals with the entire team, including staff, everyone becomes a part of the equation and can see the impact their work makes to the overall goal. They can see the value of their contribution and will be more inclined to innovate and contribute to its overall success.

According to Dr. Bastiaan Heemsbergen, Organizational Psychologist at Queens University in Canada, transparency is the recipe for innovation. If you have a transparent company, the ideas and innovation will flow. 

Have 15-Minute Stand-Up Meetings Every Morning

The goal of a stand-up meeting is to discuss any pressing issues while standing for 15 minutes (or less). You can have it once a day or once a week, but either way it’s a good way to address any immediate concerns, share insights and ideas and improve collaboration.

Also, because they are only 15 minutes long, it forces the team to focus on important issues and share quickly, and also avoids the loss of billable hours while improving collaboration and innovation. 

At standup meetings, each person answers the following three questions: 

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. What obstacles are impeding my progress?

They create an open environment where teams work together to solve problems, and foster innovative solutions to roadblocks. 

Set Up an Ideas Box

If 15 minute meetings would be too difficult to implement (maybe everyone starts their day at a different time, or it’s just not feasible since some people work from home, etc), then an ideas box is an alternative.

You can have a digital ideas box in your cloud or a physical one at the office where everyone can submit ideas and they are shared at a company meeting for everyone to vote on which ones would get implemented. This way any idea can be shared anonymously and people will feel free to share any idea, no matter how radical. 

However, you should make sure that: (1) everyone is aware of the ideas box, (2) everyone understands how it works, (3) you follow up on the ideas and implement them strategically, and (4) you encourage everyone to participate. That way you will not fall into one of many traps of failed idea boxes, and will instead ensure its success.

Teach New Problem-Solving Techniques

While meeting your billable hours is important, training your team members on alternative methods of solving problems can have a positive impact and improve innovation. If you pursue a problem from a different angle, you’ll come up with solutions that the one problem-solving method you consistently deploy would not reveal.

For instance, using design thinking instead of the IRAC method would force lawyers to focus on the “client” rather than the “Issue” and attack the problem from that perspective, by empathizing with their client and understanding their situation. 

Maybe there are less litigious ways to solve the problem, and finding them may not happen if you’re only focusing on the issue and finding the law that applies to it. When you’re the only firm coming up with a solution that no one else thought of, you’ll distinguish yourself from the competition and win the long game.  

Design thinking can help foster new ideas on improving your firm culture, innovating new billing methods and alternatives to the billable hour that would be more profitable and favorable to your clients, and coming up with marketing ideas for your firm; all of which would benefit your firm and clients, and set you apart. 

Reward Creativity

Every time someone comes up with a great idea at your firm, make sure you implement one of them. If someone has a great idea, make sure everyone knows that it’s being implemented, give the ideator credit, and find a way to celebrate it.

There are creative ways to reward creativity. The awards can be personalized and tailored to the innovator to reward the creativity, and can acknowledge the individual or team contributors. You can award points for each innovative idea, buy individualized gifts, or create a culture that acknoweldges innovation and collaboration. 

Whether it’s as low key as emailing everyone about it, or something as big as having a party, the innovation should be acknowledged publicly so that other people are encouraged to participate and ideate as well. 

Posted by Mary Redzic on Monday December 19, 2016 0 Comments

Labels: Lawyering Skills, Productivity, Mastering MerusCase

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