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June 21, 2004

Five by Five - Denise Howell

Denise Howell is the author of the Bag and Baggage weblog, and is one of the pioneering legal bloggers, having started Bag and Baggage in 2001. She is an appellate and intellectual property lawyer with a large Los Angeles law firm. Denise's Five by Five:

1) Law should be practiced like yoga is practiced. Yoga practitioners know that the way to progress is to seek out the masters--those who have acquired, through time, dedication, and experience, skills so incredible they play havoc with the laws of the known universe--and work with them day in and day out. Yoga practitioners know to give their fellow practitioners plenty of space and respect. They learn by thoughtful and constructive critiques of their efforts, not abstract PowerPoint bullets and fly-ins. They know how to nurture their competencies and push their weaknesses to and beyond a new edge. "You may notice your mind shuts down when confronted with a challenge. Trust your intuition. Find a deeper resource." My yoga instructor gave this advice while holding the class in a particularly long camel. It applies just as well to the tough spots that comprise a lawyer's day. It makes little difference what law school someone went to, or how well they did in their class. The most law school provides is a rudimentary toolbox; someone needs to show you how to use the tools.

2) Just blog it. Just syndicate it. Lawyers have been trying to blog and syndicate their Web offerings since they first put up their original (pretty horrendous) sites--they just don't know it yet. When they finally figure this out on a large scale, we're going to be in for a sea change in how lawyers communicate with each other and the world. Blogging--both behind the firewall and in public--is good for lawyers in so many ways. It's good for writing and research skills. It's good for visibility and accountability. It's good experience performing on a larger stage. And it's not just good for lawyers, but the rest of the world as well. Blogging lets lawyers wrestle--in an open, accessible way--with difficult issues that matter to society at large. It lets lawyers provide front line reports from important legal proceedings the mainstream press might overlook or is ill equipped to handle with the same level of expertise.

Syndication takes all this visible and user friendly goodness and makes it even more so. Lawyers were scared of email when it first arrived; now it's indispensable. So too it will be with blogging and syndication, and the sooner the legal field gets this, the better. As Seth Godin writes in his 07/04 Fast Company column, Rules for Off-Roading at Work: "Far better to be a lot less showy and a lot more bold."

3) Law is a knowledge business; treat it like one. The legal world historically has chased would-be clients to financial centers, leased expensive space, insisted its minions put in long hours there, and hoped this would somehow help the bottom line. The fact is this strategy serves no one, including actual and would-be clients. I'm not saying firms should abandon their downtown office space, but they should be cognizant and supportive of how their own personnel and their clients actually work (or would prefer to work, given the choice). This means satellite offices and support facilities in areas closer to where people live. It means underwriting home and mobile office expenditures. It means helping lawyers achieve a balance between family and work by helping remove the roadblocks on both ends.

4) Leading, not bleeding.
This point follows from the last. If law is a knowledge business, lawyers have to find ways to be on the leading edge of available technologies and not perpetually clinging to antiquated, yet "proven," IT. If the legal field would otherwise steer clear of something invaluable like wireless networking, due to security or compatibility issues, it needs to bring its considerable spending clout to bear to help drive development in the right direction.

5) Bottoms up. Remember those junior people with the rudimentary toolbox from point one? Just because they have much to learn doesn't mean they don't have much to teach. The same goes for all the non-lawyers in the legal field. These are the profession's best ties to the real world. The practice would greatly benefit from giving them a greater voice and greater participation in policy decisions. (Bottom up reviews are one idea. Blogging behind the firewall is another.)


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