Popular Threads - August 2019

Court Rules re: Gender Neutrality in Legal Writing

I'm planning to write an article for my newsletter on how to accomplish gender neutrality in legal writing, Do the courts you practice in require gender neutrality, either at a "judge's individual rules" level or at a Local Rules level?

I love this topic and am glad you're writing about it. I'm aware of no rules but here's my personal plea. PLEASE do not endorse use of "their" as a gender-neutral pronoun, such as in, "A witness may testify as to their personal knowledge." I'm well aware there is a pernicious view that this is an acceptable solution. It's not. It's gross writing. I like use of "her" and "she" as the gender-neutral pronouns. Men got the preference for centuries, so women should get the next several centuries. Then we can revisit this in the year 3019.

Tony LaCroix, Missouri

By definition, "her" and "she" are not gender-neutral pronouns.

Andrew C. McDannold, Florida

Literally, no. But I see no need for literal gender neutrality. Writers need to solve a mechanical problem while turning away from the masculine default.

Tony LaCroix

Tony, is your objection based on the fact that "their" is plural not singular? You're technically correct. But I'm not sure the "two wrongs gets you even" approach is the "right" way to go either. Maybe "their" can be formally redefined (somehow) as either singular or plural; it's already used that way informally anyway.

Amy Breyer, California

I figure if the use of "they/their" as singular gender neutral was good enough for The Bard, it's good enough for me.

That being said, where the gender of a subject is unknown, pronouns can often be avoided, even if at times a bit stiffly.

"A witness may testify as to the witness' own personal knowledge." OR, more briefly,

"A witness may testify only as to first-hand knowledge."

Richard J. Rutledge, Jr., North Carolina

My court rules do not require gender-neutral writing.

When writing an article, I use examples with both he and she, making sure there are good and bad examples for both gender.

When attempting to be gender-neutral, I use "one/one's" for singular or "they/their" for plural.

They/them is one of many non-binary preferred pronouns, but the one I hear the most. Like "you," it is becoming both singular and plural.

My court typically defaults to Debtor, Creditor, or Trustee and the appropriate gender-pronoun for the individual the court is referring to.

Corrine Bielejeski, California

Another alternative: 

“Witnesses may testify only as to their own personal knowledge.” 

There are almost always alternatives, some better than others. 

Brian H. Cole, California

An occasional problem with use of “her” and “she” is the implication that the only persons who engage in the particular activity are female. For example, “If a person wants to become a nurse, she must first ….” Although the antecedent (“a person”) is gender-neutral, the later use of the feminine pronoun risks being read back into the antecedent, on the order of “If a woman wants to become a nurse, she must first ….” 

Overall, I’m not positive that the remedy for previous problematic usage is to become ust as problematic in another way. 

Brian H. Cole

How about "A person who wants to become a nurse must first...."

Lisa Solomon, New York

How about: "Anyone who wants to become a nurse must first...."

Russ Carmichael

Easy. Switch to he/him in those situations.

Tony LaCroix

You can like them. You can argue their use is warranted. But it is insane and inane to claim them as gender-neutral. Maybe you meant, "it" and "it"?

Douglas Hofstadter, of Godel, Escher, Bach fame, has taken on the issue of gendered language. Can't imagine a better resource. The paper I'm linking to is ostensibly addressing race, but I take it that was to highlight the need for gender neutrality by way of rhetorical flourish.

https://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html

Robert Thomas Hayes Link, California

We used to say, "One." As in, "One who wants..."

Robert Thomas Hayes Link

Does Anyone Really Need a Full-size Copier/printer Anymore?

With the addition of a full-time paralegal and space for it in the new office, I'm considering whether it would be advantageous to get a full-size printer/scanner/copier. I will have two lawyer office mates who can share the cost.

I do mostly litigation. However, even on the big document cases, I don't use formal paper files. I generally only print things for depositions, document review as needed and trial exhibits. We organize the documents into binders that we reuse for multiple depositions, etc. On a big trucking or med mal case, I can end up with 10-15 large binders (or more). On a smaller case, I may only print two binders worth of documents before trial.

I have moved to electronic production options as much as possible. Trial still requires exhibit binders even though I try to use electronic exhibits as much as possible.

Right now, I have an HP color laser multi-function printer (I hate the scanner, images are always crooked) and a B&W Brother laser multi-function machine in my home office. I will probably add a Scansnap at the office to address the scanning quality issue and call it a day unless someone tells me I'm missing something here.

The advantages I can see to the big machine are the ability to do much faster scanning/copying/printing, capturing costs on my billable cases, maintenance included when a machine breaks if that's part of the lease, and the ability to do big jobs.

I'd appreciate thoughts!

I had one of the big machines at my previous firm. Since I went solo I have a high speed laser printer and a scan snap. Literally the only thing I miss about the old printer is the ability to offset the stacks on a collage and the ability to staple pages.

If those things are worth it to you (and for printing multiple copies of large exhibits it might be) then the big machine might be the way to go.

    Andrew Mays, Illinois

No.

You need one of these combos:

1) Multifunction printer (which will work as a low-volume flatbed scanner and will also be useful for special paper, i.e. letterhead, envelopes, etc.)

2) High speed document scanner

3) Large fast networked laser printer

OR

A) High speed document scanner *with flatbed*, such as the Fujitsu fi-7260 or fi-7240

B) Large fast networked laser printer

OR

I) The kind of multifunction printer which is basically a flatbed and low-end document feeder, mounted on top of a large fast networked laser printer

II) High speed document scanner.

Here is why those combos are better:

-What makes copiers so expensive is the heavy-duty document feeder.

-Multifunction document feeders and scanners DO NOT have a high duty cycle, and are not reliable for heavy use. For example, my HP MFP (the "I" kind above, in the last group) has a laser printer with a duty cycle of maybe 100k/month, but a document feeder with a duty cycle of maybe 2k/month.

That is pretty standard, though you have to dig into the specs to find out. However, they are fine for occasional flatbed scanning and occasional copying of small files.

-High speed document scanners can run all day every day; anything 45PPM and up should handle a banker's box per week for years, without blinking (the fujitsu fi-7260 is rated for 9000 pages/DAY). And anything worth copying is worth scanning. Spend the money on 60ppm and you'll be glad you did.

-High speed laser printers, without any fancy add-ons, are some of the most reliable and bulletproof machines you can find in the office.

No matter what package you choose, it's not too expensive to add on a color inkjet MFP, so you pick up low-volume color for cheap. I use an HP which prints (and scans!) tabloid (11x17) and is only $200 brand new. I rarely use it but when I do I'm glad to have the tabloid capability.

Erik Hammarlund, Massachusetts

Erik, thanks for breaking it down like this. What you are describing is pretty close to the setup I was envisioning and it makes sense.

Deena Buchanan, New Mexico

A high-speed scanner and a high-speed color laser printer should take care of your needs. I have a Fujitsu Scansnap on every desk which takes care of day to day needs, but you can buy a faster scanner (I have one, but don't use it much).

Canon and Fujitsu both make 60 page a minute scanners that stand up to a heavy duty cycle. Fujitsu has several in its 7000 series with varying duty cycles, speeds and cost. A Canon example would be the Canon DR-G1100. Kodak reportedly is good also, but I did not look up models.

I would recommend a Ricoh high speed color laser printer, something like the Ricoh P C600 because of its low operating cost. I have a prior model Ricoh (actually my last two were Ricoh) and they have been stellar performers.

Right now you are running light duty cycle equipment, at least from your post. Part of the purchase decision is how you are going to staff and operate the equipment you operate. If volume and workflow is designed to keep someone busy all day with scanning, a higher duty cycle scanner is important.

Although I don't recommend it, if you were to buy a traditional copier type product, getting one that is used and purchasing it, with service from a local vendor, can be the best approach. You can buy it over the Internet or work with a local vendor to find one.

Darrell G. Stewart, Texas

Thanks, Darrell. The responses are illuminating fact that my printers are not heavy duty enough for how my litigation practice is growing. They are great for desktop machines and were fine for what I needed when I started in January, but I really need a networked option with higher/faster capacity for both printing and scanning now. I just took on a handful of new litigation matters over the last couple of months that will definitely require the next step. I could kick myself for under-investing, but I wasn't sure how my practice would develop when I started out. I guess it's a good problem to have and I can invest appropriately now.

Deena Buchanan

Think of it this way: A serious high duty copier would probably cost $3500.

You can hardly get into the copier market for less than $2000 and even then you have service contracts, etc.

But you won't need to spend anywhere CLOSE to that if you have multiple products--AND you'll have better, faster, longer-lasting things with a higher PPM output, which will no longer require any annual service or maintenance, and which can be used (and replaced, and upgraded) individually..

My main advice would be to spend the extra money on a high-speed doc scanner. Nothing wrong w/ a Scansnap and you can keep it somewhere for backup use. But they are SLOOOOOOOOW. For any serious work you want at least 45ppm and (as someone who has 45ppm) you're better off w/ 60+ ppm.

Yes, it will cost $800-900 rather than $450 but it will pay for itself in a year (or less, if you're busy.)

A functional high-speed Brother can be had for less than $300. A super nice laser w/ extra trays and duplex will still be well under $1000, especially if you buy b-stock.

Erik Hammarlund

I think you'll do fine with a high-speed workgroup scanner (Fujitsu fi-series) and a high-speed laser printer. I paid about $1,000+ for each of my Fujitsu fi scanner and HP LaserJet M600 and they've been able to handle a lot of scanning and printing each month. I do a lot of both.

Eugene Lee, California

Thanks! I checked and my current Brother B/W is 36ppm as a printer. For now, I'm going to spring for the Fujistu fi-7160 (the Brother and my HP have a flat bed and I rarely need it). The next step will be to replace one of the printers for something with a bit more capacity but I'll keep these around for now.

I really appreciate all of the input on a Sunday afternoon.

I negotiated the last two big printer contracts for my old office and I just don't want to spend like that if I don't need to.

Deena Buchanan

My office, two to three lawyers and a paralegal, has not had a copy machine for more than fifteen years. A good fast scanner takes care of it all.

David Masters, Colorado

It seems to me that it's a numbers question, one that will be specific to your practice. The advantage of the full-size, dedicated printer copier scanner is that it is cost-efficient for high volume work. An honest sales rep would could probably give you numbers on the number of copies/pages printed per month you'd need before it starts making sense. My practice is transactional and almost entirely electronic--my HP Deskjet largely sits in the corner gathering dust, and I've had ink cartridges dry out on me before I get to use them.

Kevin Grierson, Virginia

The price savings for a full-blown copier require a VERY high use rate though. If you're like most smaller firms, then "2-3 boxes of paper per month" is a very busy printing month. And if so, you are going to underuse a heavy-duty laser printer--which is fine, because they are cheap. But you can't afford to underuse a copier.

To put this in perspective, here's a laser printer on Newegg; Xerox B600--huge, 58ppm. It costs $720.

https://www.newegg.com/xerox-versalink-b600/p/N82E16828116676?Item=9SIA6ZP6HM4404

And here's the equivalent MFP (same printer with a copier top)... for $2340. You pay 2-3x the printer cost to get the copier addon.

https://www.newegg.com/xerox-versalink-b600/p/N82E16828116676?Item=9SIA6ZP6HM4404

So, buying a copier makes it prohibitive to get a fast and durable printer body.

and that is bad because of Hammarlund's First Rule: TIME IS TOO PRECIOUS TO WASTE ON SLOW PRINTERS. ;)

Erik Hammarlund

Frankly, it doesn't sound like you need a big copier. Those few times when you need to print a large volume, you can always outsource it to a local copy shop.

But some of us still find it useful, particularly in small firms with more paper-heavy practices (in my case, estate planning.). I did the math and found that purchasing a new copier and pairing it with a maintenance contract (which includes all toner) was still going to be more cost-effective than leasing. We have a maintenance and toner agreement, but I purchased a new copier outright after receiving many, many quotes.

Most of my staff has a ScanSnap at their desk, but we attorneys do not and often use the copier for scanning - and it is also very fast at that.

In my smaller office I have a heavy-duty printer that can double as a copier, and it is much slower to print the first page than my big copier, and a bit slower generally. It is rarely used and was about $700 to purchase, as opposed to several thousand dollars.

Cynthia V. Hall, Florida

Engagement Agreement Policy

I'm curious on something: what is your process or policy on signing engagement agreements? Do you present it to the client and have them sign right away? Do you collect the retainer amount first?

My procedure is that I present the agreement to the client (e.g. email it to them) and ask them to read the agreement and ask any questions they wish. If they have no questions, then I have them sign the agreement (e.g. via DocuSign), and then collect payment. I usually try and have the client sign the agreement on a different day than I present it to them so I can truthfully say that they had at least 24 hours to read the agreement.

Obviously, I can't control whether the client actually reads the agreement or not, but I at least gave them the opportunity to do so.

It seems to me this method makes it more difficult for the client to claim later that they "didn't understand what they were signing", etc. No cases come to mind where I lost the prospective to another law firm because I did it this way.

    Andy I. Chen, California

I get a signature and retainer at the same time – as to your other question, my engagement letter contains the following:

Independent Legal Review

We have written this engagement letter on our own behalf. Please feel free to seek independent legal advice from legal counsel of your choosing in order to review this engagement letter. As we wish to provide you ample opportunity to consult with independent counsel, we do not require that you return a signed copy of this letter immediately. If you wish, we will be glad to provide you with names of counsel for your interview and selection and to discuss with such counsel any issues arising under this engagement letter.

Walter D. James III, Texas

If the PC was sitting in my office, I would actually go thru the agreement with them. If not, the accompanying email or cover letter would say to please read and ask questions before signing, etc. And yes, for all hourly or flat fee matters, I got paid up front. Very polite but firm about that.

Amy A. Breyer, California

Usually a potential client is sitting across from me in the conference room. I go over agreement, they review it. Sometimes a PNC takes it to review and sign later. Other times, the individual signs it there. I tell everyone I need the signed agreement and money to proceed.

Occasionally, I will email someone the agreement. The agreement is reviewed, signed and sent back when the individual decides. I still have to get both agreement and money to proceed.

Darrell G. Stewart, Texas

I agree with Andy’s method. Offer to accept credit card payment. Accept the signed copy by scan and email or even a photo. You sign only after client signs.

Roger M. Rosen, California

Agree with Roger but sometimes when sending a proposed agreement to a PC I will put a deadline for return of the signed agreement and deposit. The circumstances for my doing so is I know I have only a month or two to take in a new client then one of my other cases will become very active and demanding OR my gut says this PC has attributes of a PITA but I think I can do that PC some good and the engagement will be sufficiently remunerative but I will not lose sleep if that PC can’t follow my directions/ conditions.

Michael Boli, California

We do in the same way Andy does it, except we also have online payments available as a link on our website connected to LawPay. So, they get the fee agreement by email after the initial meeting, they have plenty of time to read it, they can pay online, and then if they don't sign up within two weeks of us emailing the fee agreement we send them a "you are not a client letter." 

In this way, there is a start and a stop to every function of becoming client, or not, and there can be no doubt about what happened because it's baked into the process.

Art Macomber, Idaho

Tech Device for Note-taking

I have a bad habit of writing notes on scraps of paper and occasionally losing said scraps of paper before acting on the notes.

Anyone have a better system? Ideally something that will fire up quickly, take hand-written notes, and then sync the notes with my staff so they can take the appropriate actions. Maybe a tablet, stylus and One-Note.

Any real-world suggestion?

Check out Rocketbook. 

https://getrocketbook.com/

Phil A. Taylor, Massachusetts

Hire a law clerk? They can do all that and carry your briefcase. I usually take a picture of notes with my cellphone and send a copy of photo to whoever I want to share it with; can even add a short message or instructions.

Duke Drouillard, Nebraska

I love my Apple Pencil and GoodNotes on my iPad for this. Works well marking up PDFs too.

Andrew Mays, Illinois

I was curious about Rocketbook, so I followed the link and read a bit about it. Unless I'm missing something, it's basically a dry-erase notebook - the pages of which you're required to snap pictures of with your phone in order to digitize the content. Sure, the notebook is "green" in that you save trees, but couldn't we do the same thing now with a legal pad and a scanner app?

(BTW, I use an app called Tiny Scanner, and I highly recommend it.)

Andrew C. McDannold, Florida

I got a Chromebook (for another purpose); maybe $200. It's a touchscreen of course. I put the Inkredible <https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.viettran.INKredible> app on it, which is a handwriting app on the Play store. There's also Squid <https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.steadfastinnovation.android.projectpapyrus>, which was good too.

What I've not gotten it to do is to automatically send the notes (which you can put into a PDF format). I just email them to myself and then they're in my client email folder.

Tim Ackermann, Texas

I did the same thing, writing notes that ended up everywhere. I can't recommend CamScanner enough. I'm not a paid spokesperson or invested in the company!You actually *scan* items using your phone. You then send to files, or your computer, or wherever. I have the free version but you can upgrade and prices are reasonable. Not sure how I existed without it.

https://www.camscanner.com/

Julie S. Mills, Ohio

With Rocketbook, taking the picture sends the notes where you previously set the notebook to send them. Cam scanner is great but you still have to file the note or remember it's in your phone.

Mitchell Goldstein, Virginia

1) Add a Tablet, stylus, and appropriate program (OneNote, etc.) I don't like the idea of carrying multiple devices, so these solutions get around that:

2) Switch to a Samsung Note phone.

3) Upgrade your usual laptop to a touch screen version--available on most high end models these days. You don't need a special convertible laptop; the touch is available on normal laptops as well.

4) Change your normal workflow to use a Surface Book, Surface pro, iPad Pro, etc.

Erik Hammarlund, Massachusetts

Use your phone's camera to take a picture and send to your inbox. From your inbox you can drag/drop/save into appropriate client or other folder. At least this way, you have a digital record of the note. 

The problem, for me, is none of the digital options for notetaking - from the "pens" to the surface of the devices work. They are too slippery and my handwriting goes from pretty darned bad to wholly what does that say?!

I've been taking pix of my handwritten notes (now corralled into a Moleskine) and loading to Evernote for years. If you are thinking of upgrading your note taking - take a look at www.bulletjournal.com I've been using the concepts for about 7 years now - but I modified the overall to better work for me. Happy to share if you care.... LMK.

Andrea Cannavina, nope notta lawyer

I tried writing on a tablet (an iPad Pro) for a while. It has never felt like writing on paper to me, and my handwriting is already crappy, so when I use it I generally stick to typing. I understand that there are screen covers you can use to give it more of a paper feel.

I do use OneNote extensively as it syncs across all my devices and meshes well with Outlook—I can use an appointment or email to create a OneNote note that is already populated with, e.g., who has been invited to a call, etc.

Kevin Grierson, Virginia

Unless you're in a setting where speaking your notes instead of writing them is impossible, I've become very adept at using the mic icon next to the space bar on my iPhone or iPad to write messages [speaking fairly softly, so not too many people would even notice], email, memos to files, draft letters, notes to myself, whatever. Sure, Siri autocorrects what I say into what I didn't mean, so I have to correct before sending, and I don't always remember to do that. But for the most part, it's quite useful and beats trying to type on the teeny soft keyboards. I have a Surface Pro 4, but the cursor jumps to erratic places within the file, putting what I'm typing where it doesn't belong, and since I'm a touch typist, I don't see it when it's happening, so I have to hunt for the misplaced text, very annoying and frustrating. Cortana doesn't function for this purpose the way that Siri does, so that's not an option.

Miriam N. Jacobson, Pennsylvania

Agree with Andrea's comments about the whole "pens' things, but that's what got me hooked on the Rocketbook. They use regular Pilot Frixion pens which can be used anywhere, and based upon my recent Amazon purchase history I have quite a few. ;)

Dave Rakowski, Pennsylvania

That is not a bad description, but once you snap the pic it is automatically sent where you direct. It is more durable than dry erase. 

The ink will not just wipe away. You need a damp cloth and can erase mistakes with an eraser (the pen has an eraser on it if needed). They have a version that you microwave to erase (not sure what the point it unless you like to fill the book and erase all at once). You use a special pen (its about the ink) but those cost about the same as regular pens and can be used as regular pens (except where you do not want to use an erasable pen, such as writing checks).

You preset locations and mark off where it is to be sent. It can go to email, or a folder on one of the cloud services. You can also "code" a file name. You set the name between ## (add to front and back) so when the scan is sent the name is also there for reference.

I started using it based on a colleague’s suggestion. I like "pen to paper." I was making notes and then scanning them with my desktop scanner, but that wasted paper (cost and environment issues). You can "print"blank pages if you do not want to buy the notebook, but the notebook is not expensive. The other options I see cost $100 plus, where this is about $35.00.

Phil A. Taylor

If one uses Siri or the recording device on an iPhone to take notes, how do you know that Apple is not recording and/or directing persons to listen to and transcribe those messages for purposes of AI development? From what I know, Apple does, could, or might do so. I would be worried about my obligation to keep client matters confidential. 

Flann Lippincott, New Jersey

Thanks for the great suggestions. I bought the Rocketbook and will give it a try. I like the idea of the real paper feel, and having it automatically forward. I plan to send the notes to OneNote, which syncs with my staff, in the hopes that they will take the appropriate actions (draft letter, addendum, etc) upon seeing the notes.

Will report back.

James M. Miner, New Jersey

Apple is doing exactly that and you have to err on the side of they are recording and people are listening - given the type of work you do.

The ONLY way I was able to configure Apple devices to work for my clients is through the app Dictate + Connect - which does not send a copy of the audio file to any place you don't tell it to.

Andrea Cannavina, nope notta lawyer

Although the title is a bit over the top, this article confirms that Apple does listen (or has in the past) to Siri and voice recordings for purposes of modifying their voice recognition algorithms.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2019/08/24/apple-iphone-ipad-privacy-siri-recordings-ios-upgrade-iphone-xs-max-xr-update/#675b7b471017

Kevin Grierson

Funny, Forbes' Apple article yesterday was titled "Apple Just Gave 1.4 Billion iPad, iPhone Users A Reason To Leave". Today's Forbes article is entitled "Apple Just Gave 1 Billion iPhone Users A Reason To Stay."

https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2019/08/26/apple-just-gave-1-billion-iphone-users-a-reason-to-stay/#4d56bc2378d2

Ah, clickbait at its finest. Sadly, today's article addresses a security flaw and not the confidentiality of recordings.

Kevin Grierson

What Is Your “Courtroom Voice”?

For those who go to court, do you have a courtroom voice? I've been going to court several times per week for the last 10ish years. Like any litigator, I have internalized that I need to speak louder than typical, enunciate more so than my normal speaking voice. At the same time, I have to come off like I'm not yelling or screaming.

This will be imprecise, but I'd guess that if my normal speaking voice is a 3 or 4 and yelling is a 10, my court room voice is maybe a 6. That's seemed to work well, but lately, I've run into "Counsel, say that again please" quite a bit.

I think part of it has to do with the normal hustle and bustle of the courtroom where someone might say something, but the recipient isn't ready for it and the information needs to get repeated. I've noticed that it is really common -- maybe 70% of the time -- for a judge to say a date for the next hearing, for instance, and then immediately have one of the lawyers ask "What is that date again?"

Sigh.

Andy I. Chen, California

Yes, I elevate my courtroom voice volume, too, and try to enunciate properly appreciating the court reporter too. I need to because sometimes I hear myself in my own head, but it’s just not loud enough to others.

Craig McLaughlin, California

Definitely do, and I'd agree it's a volume between yelling and normal conversation with a focus on clearer enunciation.

I regularly receive a nice little backhanded compliment based on "courtroom voice;" I apparently slide into it automatically when I start pontificating about a legal issue to friends or family, who then typically respond with, "Wow, you actually sounded like a real lawyer just then!"

Uhhhh...thanks?

Bryce Davis, Florida

I do, and I know where it came from, Masonic Ritual. When I first started doing ritual, back when I was in law school, I can remember an old past master of the Lodge who came up to me and told me several things, one of the most important of which was that he could not hear me. He told me to always speak to the person in the room who was furthest away from me, as if that person was hard of hearing. So, whenever I am in court, I always speak to the judge (or juror) who is the furthest away from me as if they were hard of hearing. In 20 years, I have only ever been asked to tone it down once. And in that instance, a rather young judge said the room was small and he could easily hear me. (When I did tone it down, OC kept asking the judge to have me speak up. The poor judge.)

Frank Kautz, Massachusetts

My way of thinking about it, which works here, is I have a public speaking voice. It is a reflex where I am speaking to a crowd or in a courtroom. Projecting your voice is part volume, part projection, and part enunciation to my view. It is much different than typical conversation.

Darrell G. Stewart, Texas

Depends. If I'm addressing the Judge I speak more loudly since most are old farts, hard of hearing and who refuse to wear their hearing aids. Like me. I have even been known to resort to AMESLAN-like hand movements (or maybe plains tribes trade signing?) to help me communicate with the old bastard.

However, I often address juries in a low-volume conversational tone while close to the box - seemingly creating a closed conversation that only includes the jury and me. They tend to concentrate more closely, too, if only to hear me. BTW - this actually works.

OC usually just gets the hairy eyeball.

Russ Carmichael, Pennsylvania

I would not describe my "courtroom" voice as yelling, but it is louder. I too was given the advice of speaking to the furthest person away (often the judge). Specifically, the analogy of being on stage was used. You want to "project" your voice so the furthest person hears you. I think my cadence changes (subconsciously) as well to help be better understood.

One of my law school professors talked about this first court appearances in NY where the courtrooms were large and that you had to almost yell to be heard. Said they also had echoes as well. Here, we do not tend to have such large courtrooms that you need to yell to be heard.

Phil A. Taylor, Massachusetts

My court has excellent microphones and a really loud phone speaker, so if you call in here, please do not use your loud lawyer voice. We have one lawyer who practically shouts your ear off. Now that I'm writing this, I'm wondering if I should tell him.

My speaking voice is generally high-pitched and fast. When in court, I have to make a conscious effort to slow down. I also make it a point to look at the judge. Often, they are still flipping papers and making notes from their previous line item. Unless they tell me to go ahead, I wait until they look at me before speaking. I tend to drop my voice a bit too, because it is easier to hear. Fun fact - people often lose their ability to hear high voices before their ability to hear low voices.

Since we are an electronically recorded court, the important thing is that your voice makes it into the sound system as well as to the judge.

Corrine Bielejeski, California

Depends on the courtroom, the judge and the nature of the proceedings.

Small claims, pretrials, other more informal proceedings with just the judge, I generally stay with a normal talking voice.

With bench trials or summary judgment hearings, my approach is more formal, more structured, but I can't say that I raise my voice.

Appellate arguments: much more formal in my approach, and depending on the room, perhaps a bit louder. But I don't overdo it. Generally, the sound system in appellate courtrooms are fine for a normal public speaking voice, and judges don't want you conducting a trial or playing on emotions.

Jury trials -- different ball game. You are on display to the jury anytime you are in front of the jury. Dynamics, emphasis, modulation of voice and tone, and a bit of acting to boot, are all necessary. But keep in mind that if your voice is constantly loud, you will lose your ability to make an emphasis when needed. And remember that sometimes you get a jury to pay closest attention when your voice is soft -- when they have to listen to hear you. Treat witnesses with respect, and that means questioning loud enough so the jury can hear, but not so loud that the jury feels you're the bully in the courtroom.

Of course, there are some judged with hearing problems that you need to take into account. There are also some courtrooms that demand a more commanding voice to be heard by everyone -- A specific example is the large courtroom (often called the ceremonial courtroom) in federal court in Indianapolis.

It is the most impressive courtroom in which I have ever appeared -- and that includes the US Supreme Court. But it is almost cavernous. Sounds can echo around the room and make it difficult the understand. You need to speak loudly and even more important, enunciate very clearly and at a slower pace so the words don't become garbled in the reverberations.

My thoughts, anyway.

Stephen Terrell, Indiana

This thread is addressing counsel's courtroom voice.

Documents we file, of course, 'speak.'

Appeals have been mentioned, and our briefs speak in both the text as well as the physical manifestation of the brief. For example, copy paper stapled at the top left corner, or bound bond paper with a cover.

The court may have rules, so, of course, we must adhere to the court's rules.

If the appellate court has no rules, I like to file briefs printed on water-marked bond paper which is bound with a plastic spine. The covers will be on heavier stock paper, and, usually, be colored. Many justices take files home to read. I want my briefs to stand out and be immediately easy to spot in his/her stack.

This extra effort, in my opinion, 'speaks,' not only to the justices but to their law clerks.

Rob Robertson, Texas

Working with Your Significant Other

My question is for those who (or have) worked with their S.O.s in their practice. What have been some key tips you could share to make things work as well as you hoped and avoid some of the "predictable" downfalls?

I *might* be having my Girlfriend of the past 3+ years come work as my assistant/secretary for part time this fall. Outside of Indy (Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., my 2 year old rescue mutt), it will be just the two people in the office.

What have people seen work and fail when working together?

I just have to respond to say that is one of the most awesome dogs' names ever. 

Matthew J. Norris, California

Answering a question like this is much like any response you might make when your wife asks, "Does this dress make me look fat?"

Russ Carmichael

Personally, I would not work with a significant other or spouse. To me, that just seems like too much face-to-face time in a day. Some people are able to work with their spouses/partners and also see them at home (i.e. 24x7 exposure). I personally could not do that.

Also, I think there’s a distinction between working *with *your spouse/partner and working *for *your spouse/partner (or having your spouse/partner work *for *you). If I hypothetically had to have my spouse/partner work for me, I would only have them do those tasks where they would have autonomy to do the task. I would consider filing documents with the court to be such a task. You could tell your spouse/partner that these 5 or 10 documents need to be filed with the court and here is the e-filing website or court runner you normally use and just set your spouse/partner loose.

Contrast that with something like organizing or maintaining files within your office. You likely have particular quirks or idiosyncrasies about how you "like things done". Your spouse/partner would have much less autonomy compared to the filing documents with the court task so I think the potential for arguments and conflict is higher.

Working with your spouse is different in my mind because you can hopefully divvy up the tasks in such a way that you do certain things (e.g. working with software) that you excel at while she works on certain things (e.g. marketing, website design, etc) that she excels at. Your law practice needs both so the two of you can complement one another.

Andy I. Chen, California

My wife works part-time for me on an as-needed basis. Sometimes I lose out to the grandkids, but we haven’t had issues.

Eric C. Davis, Alabama

To what Andy says, I think you need to be comfortable having your spouse around all the time. I work from home. For 12 of the last 15 years, my wife was a stay at home mom. We spent A LOT of time together. It was probably harder for me then for me. But, I never had her do work for me. That would have not worked in our marriage.

Jonathan Stein, California

I've worked with a spouse at an office supply company back in the 90's. He was in shipping, I was in sales. I was hired there first, & after I had been there a year (and a corporate move to a new location), the company needed a new shipping clerk, and he was hired.

At the onset, we sat down and agreed that we would not bring personal issues to work and would not bring work issues home. We also agreed that what happened at work was solely between 'shipping' and 'sales' not between husband and wife. Worked pretty well.

What we hadn't considered was what would happen if the company failed. It really sucked to have both of us out of work 3 years later when embezzlement by the owner's ex-husband forced the insolvency and closure of the business.

AnnMichelle G. Hart

My husband often spent lots of time at my office because I had the better printer. He was a free-lance writer, and when he had to crank out a script [back in the old days], he would use my "receptionist" desk printer - I never really had a receptionist - to print his scripts. But he also would hang at my office, and bring in lunch for both of us if we weren't going out, and when business was slow, we'd both sit companionably in the conference room, reading, talking, whatever. When I was really busy, he would help me with clerical work. But we got along really well in all areas, and worked well together, whether it was putting together furniture, packing and moving, shopping [not that either of us loved shopping], traveling, etc., so we could spend 24/7 together very easily. If there was ever conflict, which was rare, we were really good at talking it out. The only area in which he did not take direction well was when we first got a computer [1984] - I read the manuals, he didn't. So I learned how to use it and he was up all night kicking the PC table and cursing. I tried to help, but gave up and let him figure it out himself. Sometimes, he asked me for help. Mostly, I kept hands off.

I think all those things are important. And you can't really have hierarchy/ power dynamics going on for the relationship to work out or survive the work relationship. That's my 2 cents. YMMV.

Miriam N. Jacobson, Pennsylvania

My dad worked for my mom for a while. What Andy said is right - there's a difference between working "with" and working "for" your spouse or significant other.

1 - Know your style as a boss. Do you micromanage? Do you give broad authority to complete a task? Do you get easily annoyed? Do you raise your voice?

2 - Know her style as a worker. Does she like to listen to music while she works? Does she get distracted easily? Is she going to ask the right sorts of questions?

3 - Define your expectations. Is she going to do certain tasks and show up every week? Is she the one in charge of picking her hours or are you?

4 - Pay. How much, how often, and through what payroll company? Get it in writing.

My dad had no problem with my mom being in charge, but he did have a stubborn streak and could be lazy. Him working as her assistant gave him more flexibility to run us kids to and from school and handle extracurriculars, which in the 90s wasn't always available to employees.

My hubby has occasionally assisted me, but that's usually with prepping my (now very very old) website, stuffing envelopes, or shredding. Discrete tasks, with broad discretion, are what works for us.

Corrine Bielejeski, California

Thanks everyone for the inputs.

As I have gone through a dozen assistants in ten years, I *think* I have a good idea of what kind of manager I am. Unfortunately, I am the type that often expects my assistants to read my mind and fill in the various gaps in my scribbled notes or directives. But I am working on that.

Because my SO will be working *for me* and not *with me* in a role that is well documented with identification of tasks, etc., I hope that some of the confusions might not occur, but I am sure there will be a few bumps.

While I could look to bring someone with more legal experience into my office, I have gone through too many short-term placements where I lose a week of work training, and then re-training, correcting etc. Anyone that works for me part-time ends up moving to a full position with benefits, etc., that I cannot compete with. My SO isn't interested in a career in the legal field, but with all of our kids getting to an age where they are getting more self-reliant, there isn't as much need for her to be at home for the kids 24x7 and is looking to do something. Given I can offer the flexibility for her to take care of the kiddos and other life junk, it works out well for both of us.

Andrew Winghart, California

We very successfully did the same. I have been a true solo since 1984. I had a wonderful secretary/legal assistant for several years. And then another. And then another. And then about 10 years down the road I reached a period where one hire after another lasted from a few hours to a few days. My wife jumped in. There was an accommodation, and like Andrew says, she was not looking for a career in the legal world. But the one thing she had and expressed, unlike ANY of the others, was a vested interest in everything she did, including doing it "right," client service, etc. That proved invaluable. And the lack of legal training meant she questioned everything the first time. She would proofread and ask, what does this or that mean. That made me think, often change the wording of forms, etc. Mantra was and still is, if she could not understand what I wrote, I failed to communicate. Of course there were occasional issues, but all resolved, all workable, etc. The flexibility was wonderful for both of us. And when I moved my office home about 20 years ago, that meant no need to hire anyone from outside to come into our home. From the beginning, we both knew who had to make the decisions, but she was never afraid to question anything. With hindsight, it would not have worked had we been on an equal educational footing. I am sure it would not work for everyone, but it worked great for us for the 25+ years. 

Henry R. Reckler, Colorado

How is your SO at reading your mind? :-)

You might want to have a written contract, just to spell out the work relationship.

Miriam N. Jacobson

Like any good SO, she can read my mind before I can and if I read my own mind incorrectly, she tells me so.

Drew Winghart

If you are serious, I could not disagree more strongly. It is the vested interest, without an employee sense of here is what I am expected to do per my contract, that makes it work. If that is not present, there would be serious risk to the marriage. 

Henry R. Reckler

Don't worry, I was absolutely joking.

Drew Winghart