The Missing Syllabus
by Andrew Elowitt
(County Bar Update, February 2006, Vol. 26, No. 2)

 

The Missing Syllabus

 

By Andrew Elowitt, J.D., M.B.A., managing director, NEW ACTIONS C+C (www.newactions.com). Elowitt is an organizational consultant and coach to executives, lawyers, and other service professionals, and chairs the State Bar's Law Practice Management and Technology Section. The opinions expressed are his own.

 

Congratulations to the 4072 law students (many of whom are new LACBA members) who passed the July 2005 California bar exam! They invested a great deal of time, energy, and money in acquiring a legal education, let alone in studying for the bar exam. And although they passed after studying at a varying range of law schools—accredited, unaccredited, local, and out-of-state—they all missed some indispensable courses for becoming successful lawyers. As a service to them (and the rest of us), here is the missing law school syllabus.

 

Time Management. Don't let the course title mislead you. Time cannot be managed. You, however, can learn to change your habits of using and misusing time. You can learn how to boost your productivity and effectiveness in a number of different ways. You will begin by learning how to prioritize your available time based on the distinction between those matters that are urgent and those that are important. You will find out that it is not necessary to do it all yourself or to do it flawlessly. You will discover those instances when delegating to others is more time- and cost-effective. Techniques for focusing your attention and minimizing distractions even while multitasking will be discussed.

 

Basics of Marketing for Lawyers. As recently as 30 years ago, the idea of openly marketing legal services (at least in the form of media advertising) was often considered gauche, unprofessional, and arguably unethical. You will explore the foundations of legal marketing—such as explaining clearly, succinctly, and compellingly to a nonlawyer what it is that you do—and developing mutually beneficial relationships with referral sources as well as prospective and actual clients. You will discover how to focus on the results or benefits of your legal services ("I protect your precious patents, copyrights, and trademarks") instead of using labels and jargon ("I'm an IP lawyer"). Students not contemplating private practice will find that by adopting a "marketing mindset" and seeing others within your organization as internal customers, you will become more successful and valuable as your colleagues get to know and trust you.

 

Introduction to Telephone Skills. This class provides essential preparation for the significant percentage of every lawyering day that will be spent on the telephone. Good telephone skills expand beyond speed dialing in your car while balancing a latté. Instructors will focus on etiquette, cell phone do's and don'ts, and instances when to take clients off the speaker phone, plus techniques to help compensate for the lack of nonverbal communications that is a limiting element of phone calls. You will learn how to return calls in a timely manner, which is not necessarily the order in which they were received. This course is a prerequisite for advanced courses in teleconferencing, Web conferencing, and video conferencing.

 

Teamwork. Though your education has been based almost entirely on individual achievement (moot court competitions and study groups being the exceptions), this course will prepare you for the real world of working with others, whether they are clients, co-counsel, advisors, decision-makers, or adversaries. You will learn the communication and collaboration skills necessary for productive teamwork. You will be introduced to the concept of "emotional intelligence" and understand how it is often a better predictor of success than cognitive intelligence. Keys to brief and productive meetings also will be discussed. In keeping with the subject matter and purpose of this course, grading will be done exclusively on a group (i.e., team) basis.

 

Stress Management. This course debunks the commonly held notion that there is such a thing as work-life balance. The very term "work-life balance" reinforces the myth that your life can be cleanly divided into two separate compartments: work (i.e., lawyering activities) and the rest of your life (i.e., family, friends, recreation, relaxation, errands). All these aspects of your life are inextricably linked, and what happens in one area affects the others. An integrated approach to deal with stress within and outside of the law office will be introduced, and strategies of denying stress, bottling up stress, and playing-hard-to-compensate-for-working-hard will be analyzed and critiqued. Attention will be paid to the limitations and hazards of self-medicating (with either legal or illegal drugs) to deal with the stress.

 

Final note: Though these courses weren't available in law school, they are offered by your local, state, and national bar associations as well as consultants and coaches to the legal profession.

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