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Breakfast and Blogging on March 26 with @ClarkHillUpdate

I’m very excited to announce that on March 26th, my firm will be hosting “Breakfast and Blogging” a breakfast panel discussion about legal issues confronted in social media use. We’ve got a great panel lined up to cover a very broad range of topics. I’ll be covering First Amendment and Defamation/Slander/Libel issues, and we also have attorneys covering intellectual property, corporate & business issues and employer/employee relations.All the speakers are young, savvy folks who are personally well-versed in social media use.

This event is geared toward entrepreneurs, social media managers and anyone who has a general interest in social media use. There is no cost to attend! Feel free to submit some questions in advance! I hope you can make it!

breakfast and blogging

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Number 5 in 10 to 10: Thoughts on writing, and how I’ve become a writer

Thoughts on Writing and How I’ve Become a Writer

August 21, 2011

Adjectives on the typewriter
He moves his words like a prizefighter
The frenzied pace of the mind inside the cell

“Shadow Stabbing,” Cake

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer (also a pediatrician, marine biologist, and teacher….but I frequently came back to “writer”).

In high school I was especially driven by hopes to be a fiction writer. Friends would give me ideas or themes and I would write short stories for them upon request. I was the biggest most hardcore dork in the creative writing club. My proudest feat of the 10th grade was that I wrote a story that was 45 pages long. I’m pretty sure everything I wrote was garbage. My inspirations at the time were Stephen King and Clive Barker. I was fascinated by all things dark and morbid. I often felt like an outcast. This is a perfect recipe for angst and melodrama.

Of probably 20 or so stories I wrote in high school, I believe I have a copy of only one, buried somewhere in a box I never bothered to unpack after we moved into our house 4 years ago. I recall unpacking boxes, seeing the first page of the story, and thinking “I can’t bear to throw this away, but if I actually read it, I will die of embarrassment.” Every now and then I tinker with the idea of trying my hand at fiction again. I’ll come up with a theme or an idea, but have yet to put pen to paper.

I started college expecting to focus on chemistry, but hated organic chemistry so much that I abandoned the idea. I had taken German for a few years and liked it well enough, and ended up majoring in German. There was a part of me that still wanted to write fiction or creative nonfiction, but I never got around to it. I took a few film analysis classes, children’s literature analysis classes, folklore analysis classes, and pop culture analysis classes. I loved learning and thinking about all these topics, but really did not wrap my brain around critical thinking skills. I could write a decent paper summarizing something, but I had significant difficulty deconstructing things, analyzing things, or interpreting things. My professors tried to teach critical thinking, they really did. I remember getting my final paper back in my pop culture analysis class. I wrote about Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.” My whole paper was about Oliver Stone’s vision of our bloodlusting, media-fervored society, and how he expressed this vision through extreme gore. The professor’s comments on the paper: “That’s all very interesting about what Oliver Stone thought, but what did you think of the film?”

In my third year of law school, when I was working almost full time in a litigation boutique, I finally wrapped my brain around critical analysis. It didn’t matter how many people explained it to me, I couldn’t really understand it until I found myself in a position, day after day, where I had to take an idea, parse it, and develop it inside and out in several different directions. I had to develop winning arguments, losing arguments, counter-arguments, and novel arguments. I often found myself in a position where there weren’t any authorities directly saying what I wanted them to say, but I had to interpret what was out there, justify it, and make it work as well for me as it possibly could.

I was listening to an old episode of the fabulous Filmspotting podcast today, and one of the hosts (I think it was Matty Robinson, but honestly don’t exactly recall…) was talking about a student who asked him what he should do to make it as a film critic someday. Matty’s advice was “Write. Write every day. Write about anything and everything. It doesn’t have to be about movies. Just write.” (ok, I’m paraphrasing)

I still have occasional moments of wishing I were a novelist, or writing clever investigative nonfiction books, or even a film critic. But honestly, I’m there. I’ve fulfilled my childhood dream, I am a professional writer. As a litigator, my job is to read, interpret, analyze, and write convincingly for my client. Sometimes when I feel gloomy about the 3 sets of discovery, appellate brief, 2 complaints, and research memorandum looming over my head, I remind myself that I am a writer. It doesn’t do much to get the work done, but it makes me feel better about it.

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Mistakes, Blunders and Disasters: My Article at Lawyerist.com

Maybe you have the day off today, maybe you do not, or maybe like me you are stuck in the limbo where your office is definitely open but your kid’s daycare is definitely closed, so you’re sitting on the couch trying to be productive as she keeps trying to climb on top of your laptop and then whines mournfully when you snap that she has to sit NEXT to you, not on TOP of you .

Whatever your work situation today, you should check out the article I published on Lawyerist.com today.  I’m pretty proud of it.  I’ve made fair share (maybe even more) of blunders, and I’ve survived and learned from them.  Hopefully you all will find some useful thoughts about how to grapple with mistakes and move on from them.

Check it out here: Recognizing, Owning, and Fixing Your Mistakes

And if you are a lawyer and haven’t started reading Lawyerist regularly yet, you should. It is full of incredibly insightful and practical articles. It is my favorite law blog because it really focuses on the nuts and bolts of practice.

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So You Want to Take a Vacation?

So You Want to Take a Vacation?

Lawyerist posted some thoughts on vacationing tips for the solo practitioner.  The post was helpful, but even with client and court commitments, when you run your own shop, it’s a lot easier to get permission to put up the “Out of Office” for a few days.

As a lawyer taking a vacation takes skill and practice. You can’t just go.  There are court deadlines, partner expectations, assignments you’ve backburnered for way too long and someone’s bound to sneak up and demand why wasn’t that done two months ago already? I can only speak from the time demands of a litigator. I don’t know what the transactional folks face, but I do know that it sometimes involves surprise projects that go til the wee hours of the morning.  The newer you are to practice, the less control you have over your time. And when you don’t have control over your time, you can forget vacationing.

My vacation technique is the product of meticulous planning and soul-crushing anxiety. I remember the very earliest years in practice where I just wanted to sleep in the office overnight and not go home on the weekends, not because I wanted to work work work, but because all the new lawyer stresses were so cripplingly bad that my only relief from the 3am panic attacks over missed (imaginary) deadlines or this or that thing I screwed up was by physically being in the office.  I got serious practice in out of office planning when I was pregnant with Baby Beez in 2010, and if I wanted maternity leave I had to create it myself, which resulted in 2 weeks off and 4 weeks working from home. (Be ye not so stupid, if you ever even consider having children, get yourself a job in an office large enough to be covered by FMLA).

My techniques are in no way perfect, but they manage to get me a few days somewhat-off each year to spend with my family:

1.    Mark your vacation in your calendar MONTHS in advance.  You can pick the destination later, but carve that time out as early as possible. And be vocal about it when things are going to be scheduled during that period.  It’s easier to ask for an alternate date for something during the scheduling process than to ask for a date to be moved later on.

2.     Let your superiors know when you will not be available. This should be in a form similar to “I’m going to be out of town the week XYZ is due, but I will get it done before I leave.”  Sometimes it’s flat out not possible, but if in any way you can swing it, set your deadlines for BEFORE you leave.  This will mean that the week or two before vacay will SUCK, but it’s better to work your backside off and then take a break than to return to the office from a vacation and then go through a whole fire drill of scrambling to get things done.  Plus, you come across as more responsible (for good reason) if you get your work done before leaving.

3.     Have your secretary scan and email your mail to you every. single. day.  Read the mail she has scanned and emailed to you every. single. day.  If you are able to resolve the tasks you DO know about before you leave for vacation, all you’ll have to do during vacation is damage control for any surprises that come in. Surprises usually come in through the mail. Make sure that mail gets to you.

4.      Check your email at least once or twice a day. The inconvenience of an hour or so of emailing each day is far easier to bear than sorting through the overwhelming pile of communications if you let them build up when you’re gone. If I feel like I’m generally keeping up with things, I can resolve most of the anxiety of the possibility of returning to a total cluster in my office at vacation’s end.

5.      Get a back up.  This one’s not easy, but it’s such a stress relief if you can swing it.  This year has been my first year that I have actually had someone junior than me who I can ask to generally keep an eye on things for me (and look up a couple research issues that unexpectedly popped up). Sure, your secretary will keep an eye on things, but also having another associate available to keep an eye on things (and maybe even present motions, shuttle boxes, etc. that there’s no way you can reschedule) is so unbelievably helpful. And remember to repay that favor.

6.      Give up the bitterness.  In most previous years, in the days leading up to vacation, I got so frustrated with the mountain of work to resolve before leaving that taking vacation seemed to cause more stress than it resolved, and I very seriously considered just calling it off.  This year I tried a different attitude. I accepted that the last few days before vacation would be mad mad mad, but if I worked hard then, I could do less work during vacation.  And I accepted that I’ve picked a profession where a week entirely free of work doesn’t exist. I would have to do some work during vacation. It’s an inevitability. And the more anger I harbored over that, the less satisfied I would be by my vacation.  I breathed deep and accepted that vacation would involve some work. That’s how it is. And I felt a lot better over it.

What are your techniques for carving out some vacation time?

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Wednesday Words: Things on My Mind Today

Wednesday Words: Things on My Mind Today

1. I am convinced that all the highly successful people are early risers. I’m not talking early risers like 6am, I’m talking 4am out the door and to the gym. My alarm goes off at 6am, and I grumble and moan and am miserable, and do everything I can to avoid getting up, and then Mr. Beez elbows me and eventually Baby Beez starts whining, and I end up rolling out of bed tired and whiny somewhere between 6:15 and 7. This is a far cry from 4am. Or 5am. Heck I can’t even make it up at 6am with a smile. I am physically capable of waking up earlier, but then I hate the world, and that’s not very productive. So unless I want to banish myself to a future of stagnation, I need to learn to get up early in the darn morning and be freaking happy about it. Either that, or I need to find a list of people who are highly successful and like to sleep in. I think the latter option sounds like more fun.

2. Now that most of the heavy lifting on my pro bono representation is complete, I’ve started loading up on additional work-related but not precisely work projects. I like writing, and while I like writing briefs and pleadings and so on and so forth, I also love the opportunity to pick my own topics and write about what interests me (see: blogging). My newest projects in the hopper are an article for the Pittsburgh Business Times blog on the FTC’s new guidance on advertising/sponsorships in social media, drafting a class proposal for a new class to be added to the curriculum at Pitt Law, and another article for the Legal Intelligencer. This time for the Intelligencer, my article will focus on women who have had children at different stages in their career (whether “early” or “late” in their career). I’m still not sure whether to draw that time distinction in terms of particular years or in terms of associate/partner. The article will focus on the benefits and drawbacks they have faced in terms of their timing decisions with having children. I’ve got a few people in mind to interview, but if you know of anyone who would be a good interview subject, please pass her name on to me!

3. I am feeling much better than I was yesterday, thankyouverymuch.

4. So manicurists soak all their tools in antibacteirial stuff, but I’ve been all fixated on figuring this out: the topcoats, basecoats and polish aren’t in any way disinfected. So aren’t those giant germ farms? Or is there something in particular about the base/top coats and polishes that does not lend to the breeding of germs? Should I be bringing my own topcoat, base coat and polish to the salon? If I bring all that stuff with me, should I even bother getting a manicure? Why don’t I do it myself? This is weighing on my mind. First world problems.