by Matt Homann
Matt Homann, an Illinois lawyer, is the author of the [non]billable hour.--Ed.
Evan is expecting just a quick guide to a few non-legal weblog sites here, but as I am about to return to teach another semester of Pretrial at Washington University Law School (only as an adjunct), I thought I'd give my five tips to law students and new lawyers. In no particular order, here they are:
1. Learn to use legal technology now. I know you have a far better understanding of technology than your professors and future bosses do. Use that to your advantage. Mastering these technologies will enhance your productivity as a law student and give you a leg up on your classmates when you enter the workforce.
Get a Tablet PC. If you are shopping for a laptop, the tablet form factor is the only way to go. It is impossible to overestimate the leap in productivity you will experience with a Tablet PC. I take all of my notes (in handwriting that is searchable and convertible to text) on my Toshiba M205 and am quickly making the yellow legal pad disappear from my desk. Some great tablet-focused resources are here, here, and here. If you have a Mac, good for you. I wish I'd bought Macs when I started my firm. However, in the Windows environment, the Tablet is as good as it gets.
Keep your stuff all in one (electronic) place. FranklinCovey PlanPlus or Agilix GoBinder are both programs built on the same platform. The first is an elegant incorporation of the Franklin Covey system, and the second is geared towards students. The calendering and to-do management of both of the programs is first-rate. Both have free trials and work well on both the TabletPC and regular windows notebooks.
Save time and keystrokes. Use Activewords. Buzz Bruggeman, who is blogging through the hurricane, created this utility with some other really smart people. Download it. Check out this weblog, and take the time to learn the software. Trust me on this one.
Learn to organize your case. The Casemap group of programs, and most particularly, NoteMap. If you are a litigator to be, you absolutely must try these programs and learn them. Download them for a free trial, schedule a free demo with one of the tremendous salespersons, and use the program in your trial or pre-trial class. Your school should get at least one free license, if they don't have one already. One small part of the suite is Notemap, a little outling program that far exceeds anything I've ever used for outling and note taking. You can pick up a free license of Notemap from Dennis Kennedy's site.
Use a brainstorming/mindmapping tool daily. The best on the market is MindManager Pro, but it is a bit pricey (but especially worth it if you use a Tablet PC). A great (and free ) alternative is FreeMind. You will not find a better method for organizing your ideas and brainstorming sessions. Both programs also work great for organizing your thoughts before you write that big brief or law review article.
Use the software lawyers use. With the exception of Casemap, not a lot of lawyers use the software I have listed. A lot of lawyers do use legal-specific practice management software like PCLaw, Timematters, Amicus Attorney, and others. Download a trial version, try managing a fictional case, and keep track of every six minutes of your day for a few weeks.
2. Learn how most lawyers work. Sixty percent (or more) of lawyers work in a small firm environment. Odds are, you will too someday. Go work for a sole practitioner (even just a few hours per week). Seeing the other side of law practice will give you valuable insights into how most lawyers work, and help you determine if small firm life is a viable alternative to the big dollars/long hours/no life that often accompanies working in a big firm.
3. Learn Time Management. I'm not just talking about skipping Oprah to read for tomorrow's civil procedure class, I'm talking about true system-based time management. David Allen's system is great, and the Franklin Covey system also works well. Get over your procrastination habit now, or it will kill you in law practice. Some good time management-related blogs are here, here, here, and here.
4. Learn the business. Law is a profession, and law is a business. In law school, you generally get one class on ethics and none on law practice management (and certainly none on marketing). For the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) you'll pay to become a lawyer, the fact that you'll get no instruction on how to be a lawyer is absolutely shameful. Since this is the self-study portion of your curriculum, I'd suggest the following:
5. Don't be an Asshole. Nobody likes the student who always volunteers, and tries to show how smart he or she is. We called those students gunners. Believe me, if they don't like you in law school, they won't like in law practice. There was a student in my law school class who constantly bragged about herself, her job, and her grades. She would constantly put others down in an off-handed way. If I saw her today, and told her I was just appointed by the Pope to personally find his successor, she'd respond by telling me she was asked first, and turned down the job because the money wasn't half of what she's making now. Do you know how many cases other lawyers have referred to her? I'm guessing zero. Your reputation as a lawyer begins now. So don't screw it up.
There you have it. It's been great. Good luck in school. See you next year.