What is wrong with @MacSparky????

David Sparks, aka MacSparky, has really done it this time. I don’t know whether I want to cheer or yell at him. I met David briefly a few years ago at Techshow. He’s as nice in person as he is in his podcast, Mac Power Users, or on his blog. But today he has my dander up.

David prepared a very nice, thorough review of the new MacBook. He discusses its pros and cons, and explains how it fits into his workflows. But then he included this little tidbit:

Since getting the new MacBook, I’ve found that I can work just about anywhere and I like that. Earlier this week I had lunch with my wife at Disneyland and then spent several hours doing legal work on the laptop while watching the Mark Twain steamship paddle down the Rivers of America. How many people can have that view from their office?

A photo of his laptop with the Mark Twain in the background accompanied that portion of the review. I don’t know Disneyland as well as I know the Walt Disney World theme parks, but I know right where that picture was taken.

Dagnabitall anyway!!!!

At first I thought, “David, what the hell are you doing taking work to Disneyland? That’s blasphemy! Are you nuts? I won’t even attend MILOFest because I’m not spending my time at a Disney resort in a conference, doing work, or anything else like that.” Disney locations are sacred to me. I was so irritated with David I was almost speechless.

Then it hit me: David can do work at Disneyland. Holy freaking cow. I am soooo jealous. On rare occasion, I can duck out of the office with a file and my MacBook Pro and do some work while enjoying a nice iced tea or other soft drink at some restaurant. But I don’t have a view that’s anywhere near what David had.

I suspect that David has a number of places in Disneyland where he enjoys just sitting and watching the park do its thing. I can think of a few places at WDW where I enjoy sitting and just absorbing the experience of being there. If I was located close enough to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, I can imagine that I might use a couple of those spots as a remote office. Being 2084 miles away from Disneyland and 1,106 miles from Disney World makes it pretty much impossible, I’m sad to say.

Anyway, David, good on ya for having a great (really, a great!) place to do some work. I will remain envious, but you’ve got my support. Just do me a favor and post more pictures from your remote office. 🙂


Lawyers winning beauty contests

The Miss America pageant they aren’t, but like other professions we have a variety of “beauty contests” that some lawyers strive for. The best known of these is probably Super Lawyers, which is a peer-nominated/selected group of highly respected lawyers in each state. The old warhorse of achievement recognition was the Martindale-Hubbell rating system. The front-runner online is Avvo.

Occasionally, a new organization pops up. Today it’s The National Association of Distinguished Counsel. I received a nice invitation packet from them (dated March 4—which means it must have arrived via Pony Express). The chair of the organization writes, “On behalf of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, it is my honor to congratulate you for your selection as a Member of the Nation’s Top One Percent.” The letter goes on to describe how selection of members is objective, they serve as a benchmark for other lawyers to emulate, etc. etc. Members are regularly called on by national media to offer comments and analysis.

For $300, they will be happy to hear that I’ve accepted the honor.

I think I’ll pass. I took a look at the members in my state of Indiana. I know one of the handful personally—and I’ll be the first to say he’s a damn good lawyer. Being considered as a peer of his is a welcome compliment. But I’m not sure that spending $300 to have a nice plaque, permission to use their web site badge, and discounts from Toshiba is my style. (And, hey, I can boast about the invitation here on my blog for free.)

Of course, all of these various organizations are businesses trying to make a profit. I understand and respect that. But I’m not sure that they help potential clients that much. Avvo seems to be trying the hardest to do that, yet I can’t think of anyone offhand who contacted me because they saw my profile on Avvo. So, perhaps I’m making a mistake in tossing the NADC invitation into the trash. Or maybe I’m not. We will see.

Email discussion lists are not your gofers

For too long now, attorneys who participate in email discussion lists have been abusing that privilege. Email discussion lists serve as great forums for debating potential changes in the law, policy issues, or even whether a court made the right ruling. These lists are also useful for kicking ideas around on how to approach a case that presents a dilemma. But these discussion lists are not for:

  • Asking list mates for basic forms. Seriously, if you can’t figure out how to draft a motion for a continuance… (If you really need a form to get you started, I’m betting your local law library has some books that may help you out.)
  • Asking list mates to do your research for you. If you have the Internet connection required to post the question to the list, then you have the same connection required to search Google Scholar, your state bar’s research service benefit (such as Casemaker or Fast Case), or Lexis and Westlaw.

The discussion lists can be a great way to connect with people in your practice area in other parts of your state. But they are also a great way to tell everyone in your state that you are lazy or unable to draft basic pleadings. Do I refer people to lawyers who appear to be lazy or incompetent? Of course I don’t. The other thing you should realize is that many times judges that you appear in front of are members of these lists. They see your questions and form opinions about your abilities.

One last note: Be wary of asking “what would you do in this case” type questions. It just might be that your opposing counsel is part of the same mailing list!


Will your law firm be backwards compatible?

The client comes in all excited after learning about his status as the sole heir of his eccentric and wealthy uncle. The client’s anticipation is largely based on the uncle’s legendary music collection. Imagine the client’s dismay upon discovering the legendary music collection is completely on eight-track tapes. There might be some rare recordings in that collection, but who has the equipment to listen to them?

As we lawyers produce more and more electronic “documents,” we need to consider whether we will be able to open and use those documents in five, ten, or even twenty years from now. No one knows what might happen if I tried to use the current version of Microsoft Word to open a file created in the late 1980s with the then-current version of Word. There are probably countless documents on 400k floppy disks that are doomed unless you happen to have an ancient (and working) Macintosh with MacWrite.

This potential dilemma is what makes Markdown interesting to me. Markdown is a simple system for formatting text that does not depend on any particular word processor. There are a number of free or inexpensive Markdown text editors available. The file that you create—your electronic document—is simply text. No proprietary formatting codes, nothing like that. If your word processor or other text editor can open text files, you’re covered. Another nice feature of Markdown is that it lets you work on the actual content of your document rather than worrying about how it formats on the screen.

The one thing that keeps me from adopting Markdown completely is one of its strengths: limited formatting. I’m a fan of good typography (even if I wouldn’t necessarily know it if it hit me in the face; thank goodness for Typography For Lawyers). I want my documents to look just so. I am not certain that Markdown will give me that much control. So, I will have to continue the investigation and exploration.

The point of all this rambling is to encourage you to think about how you will make sure that many years from now you’ll be able to open that complicated document that no one wants to re-type. Markdown may be an option, as is plain text. It might be wise to spend some time thinking about workflows as we produce our documents. Saving a document in its native word processing format, as plain text, and as PDF ought to cover everything. There are probably other solutions, and I’d love to hear your ideas.

Making a list, checking it twice…

Checklists can save lives. They can also prevent malpractice for lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. Last week, NASA used a mountain of checklists to successfully launch a test of the new Orion capsule. Even at the very end, the launch director made sure every box was checked: (video link, just in case)

Some lawyers like to use checklists, but they often run into the problem of not knowing exactly what should go on a checklist. The Checklist Manifesto, by physician and author Atul Gawande, is a perfect short read on how checklists work and the best practices for creating and using them.

I prefer to make my own checklists, but I find I can create better checklists if I have a model to start from. Colorado litigator Jeff Vail has done us all a favor by creating his Litigation Checklist (and sub-checklists) and offering it up for free.

Many of us will have a little downtime over the holidays. I know I’m going to try to find a little time for myself to read and work on some checklists. Let me know if it’s part of your holiday escape as well.