Getting the Most out of the Day

Does it seems like you keep trying to cram more and more into each day, until the days are bursting at the seams?? Have you been busier than normal lately?? If so, you’re certainly not alone.?

Morning court appearances.? Client interviews.? Motions.? Depositions.? Administrative hearings.? Research.? Lunch.? Writing.? Re-writing.? Office management.? Visiting the scene of the crime or the accident.? Settlement proposals.? Bond hearings.? Returning telephone calls.? Trials.? Errands.? Exercise.? E-mails.? Pre-trial conferences.? Press conferences.? Responding to discovery requests.? Correspondence.? Plea negotiations.? Family time.? Mediation.? Meditation.? Reading case updates.? Witness interviews.? Afternoon court appearances…

Sound familiar?? The trial lawyer’s life is a busy one.? Unless you have the luxury of working for just a single client on a single matter, you probably get pulled in a dozen different directions by a dozen different people every day.? How do you deal with it and get the most out of your day?? How do you fit it all in?

Here’s a quick tip to help you get the most out of your day.? You’ve probably heard the old saw about the teacher, the rocks, and the jar, right?? In case you haven’t, here it is:

One day, a teacher stood before his class. On the table in front of him was a large glass jar and a bucket of large rocks.? Each of the rocks was larger than his fist.? He carefully placed rock after rock into the jar until the rocks reached the edge of the jar.? Then he asked the class, “Is the jar full?”

“Yes,” they agreed.

“Not yet!” he said, and then reached under the table.? He withdrew a bucket of smaller rocks and carefully poured them inside the jar until they reached the edge.? Again, he asked the class, “Is this jar full?”

Most of the students agreed, that yes, the jar was full.

“Still not yet,” he said.? The professor reached under the table a second time and brought out a bag of sand.? He poured the sand into the jar until it spilled over the lip of the jar.? For a third time, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

They weren’t as sure of themselves this time, but most agreed that the jar was full.

The professor grinned as he reached under the table once more.? “Nope!” he said.? “There’s still more room.”? He pulled out a pitcher of water and poured the water into the jar, until the water cascaded over the edges.? With a kindly look in his eyes, he informed the class, “Now the jar is full.”

Then the professor shared a pearl of wisdom.? “Here’s the most important point you must remember: You have to put the big rocks in first.? If you don’t, you’ll never be able to fit them in.”

What are the most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow?? Which five things would, if you completed them, make the biggest difference in your life?? Those are your “big rocks.”? You need to fit them into your schedule before you accomplish anything else. Do you have a team that also needs their shifts to be scheduled in? If so, you may want to consider an online staff rota software to help you do this so you don’t have to spend much time on it during your already busy day.

This evening, before you go to bed, pull out your favorite pen and write down the five most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow and the five most important things you need to accomplish this week.? What matters most?? Do you need to prepare for an upcoming deposition?? Finalize a settlement proposal?? Tell a client some bad news?? Whatever they are, and no matter how distasteful they may be, these are your top objectives.? You need to accomplish these objectives before you work on anything else.

Too often, you won’t work on these important objectives because you’ll get distracted? by minor matters that feel urgent and important (or are just more fun to work on.)? The biggest culprit is in front of you right now.? E-mail is one of the biggest time wasters in your office.? (Ironic that I tell you that in an e-mail message, huh?)? How many times have you had someone send you a simple two line email that triggered an hour’s worth of work??

One way to help you focus on the big issues is by planning time to return calls and emails.? When you get into the office bright and early in the morning, don’t boot up your email program.? Instead, work on your #1 priority.? Dedicate a specific time for responding to emails.? Maybe you dedicate 10:00 AM to 10:45 AM for e-mails and phone calls.? Your time will be much better spent if you focus on your highest priority objective and don’t let the interruptions distract you from that task.

If you want to get the most of your day, don’t work on anything else until your most important objective is completed.? After your most important project is completed, start working on Project #2, then #3, etc.? That may mean ignoring “urgent” phone calls or conversations.? But according to the Pareto principle (“the 80/20 rule”), even if you accomplished only the #1 item on your list, you’ll have fit more into your day than most other attorneys in your office.

Try this plan for one week and see how much more you can get out of the day.

The Trial Lawyer’s Library

When I began my career as a trial lawyer, I had no idea what books I was supposed to read.  There were hundreds of thousands of books in my law school library, but I wasn’t sure which ones were most important to developing my trial advocacy skills.  I read thousands of thousands of pages, looking for the best trial advocacy tips and techniques, and wasted a lot of time, energy, and money in the process.

Hopefully, this list will help you shortcut the process that I went through. In this article, you’ll find my recommendations for the books that a trial lawyer should read and digest.   You’ll note that I didn’t include books on trial advocacy, and that was done on purpose.  There are hundreds of trial advocacy books worth reading (as someone who dedicates yourself to improving your trial advocacy skills, you probably already have at least a dozen or more books on the subject, right?).  Instead, these books are intended to expand your horizons, maximize skills that weren’t developed in law school, and help you get the most out of your persuasive skills.

Influence, by Robert Cialdini
Want to know how to influence jurors?  This is the definitive text on the subject.  Includes persuasive techniques to improve your entire case presentation, from pre-trial preparations to closing arguments, as well as techniques for improving your pre-trial negotiations.

On Writing, by Stephen King
Great tips for telling stories and presenting more effective opening statements.  Replace the word “reader” with “juror” and you’ll feel like the book was written specifically for trial lawyers.

Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7-Day Speed Reading & Learning Program
You read thousands and thousands of pages while preparing for trial — this will help you do it faster and remember more of what you read!

Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
The entire book should be mandatory reading for everyone who enters the business world, but there are great lessons for trial lawyers, too.  Focus on Ch. 1 (Desire) to see what it takes to become a great trial lawyer, and Ch. 9 (Power of the Master Mind) for assistance improving your trial advocacy skills.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
If you intend to make a career out of persuading jurors, you probably already have a dog-eared copy of this book on your bookshelf.  You’ll learn more about pre-trial negotiations and trial advocacy from this book than you did from your entire law school education.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
If you believe that trials are war and the courtroom is your battlefield, this book will help you prepare your battle plan for success.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Each morning, as soon as you wake up, “Resistance” attempts to keep you from being the best courtroom advocate that you can be.  This book shows you how to break past “Resistance” and excel at your profession.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
Losing a trial is not the end of the world.  This book will help you get through the rough patches, especially if you lose a case, lose a client, or get dissuaded with the practice of law.

Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, by Dale Carnegie
You speak for a living, so why not improve your presentation skills?   Loaded with great tips for improving your presentations to judges and jurors alike.

The Memory Book, by Harry Lorayne
If the correct objection or impeachment fact isn’t instantly available to you during trial, it’s worthless.  This book will help you improve your memory so that you can be more effective during trial.

The New Way Things Work, by David Macauley
An effective method of getting your ideas across involves the use of diagrams or images.   In this book, David Macauley shows you how hundreds of devices work.   With a combination of words and images, he makes difficult concepts easy to understand.  Using the same techniques, you can help your jurors understand complex issues and facts in your case.

Aesop’s Fables, by Aesop
This book contains dozens of valuable themes for use in your next trial.   By weaving these fables into your closing argument, you’ll help jurors immediately understand the underlying values of your arguments and see why your client deserves to win.

I’m sure that there are dozens of other useful books that I overlooked.  If you know of a book that other trial lawyers will find valuable, please take a moment to post a comment including your recommendation.

Free Software for Trial Lawyers

On a budget?   Here are some software programs that will help you prepare for your next jury trialand won’t break the bank.  Most of these programs work on a variety of platforms, but since I’m a Mac guy, one or two of them might be Mac-only.

IMAGE EDITING PROGRAMS

GIMP: www.gimp.org
Need to crop photos, modify images, or enhance images for trial?  This is a cheap (free) alternative to Adobe Photoshop.   It includes a wide variety of image editing tools.   It’s not easy to get started, but it’s a powerful resource.

Seashore: www.seashore.sourceforge.net
A simple image editing program that’s easier to use than GIMP.

Inkscape: www.inkscape.org
This is an illustration program (similar to Adobe Illustrator) that lets you create vector drawings and illustrations. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the professional program, but it lets you create amazing artwork.

Hugin: www.hugin.sourceforge.net
If you’re trying to take photos of a large, panoramic area, you usually can’t fit the entire scene into a single photo (at least not without a thousand dollar camera lens).  Hugin solves that problem by letting you stitch 2+ photos together into a panoramic view.

AUDIO EDITING PROGRAMS

Audacity: www.audacity.sourceforge.net
If your evidence includes audio recordings of depositions, interviews, or police interrogations, Audacity is an invaluable tool.  With this program, you’ll be able to edit audio recordings, extract smaller portions from extended interviews, and perform other audio editing functions. 

3D MODELS / CRIME SCENE MODELING

Sketchup: sketchup.google.com
Create 3D and 2D models, apply textures, and voila! you’ve created an interactive model of the crime scene!

Sweet Home 3d: www.sweethome3d.eu
Need to layout a residential crime scene or a slip & fall scenario? Sweet Home 3d can render home layouts, furnishings, and create floorplans.

OFFICE SUITE PROGRAMS

Scribus: www.scribus.net
This program is great for producing flyers, brochures, newsletters, etc.   You can use it to create posters or enlargements for use in direct examination or closing argument.

OpenOffice: www.openoffice.org
Can’t afford (or don’t trust) Microsoft Office? OpenOffice includes a full office suite programs.   You’ll get a word processor, spreadsheet, database, graphics, and presentation programs. 

Google Docs: docs.google.com
Create and edit web-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  
The documents are stored online, so multiple parties can modify them at once (beware of attorney-client privilege violations).

AbiWord: www.abisource.com
This word processing program is similar to Microsoft Word.

PRODUCTIVITY PROGRAMS

Evernote: www.evernote.com
This program works on your computer, iPhone, PDA, etc.  You can synchronize your notes everywhere at once.  It’s invaluable for jotting down notes, websites, and more.

Freemind: www.freemind.sourceforge.net
Need to brainstorm new cross-examination questions?  Trying to organize your direct-examination, but not sure which topics you should address or which order you should present them in?  Freemind is a mind-mapping program.  If you’ve never used a mind-map before, it might take a little getting accustomed to, but it will make it much easier for you to get those brilliant ideas out of your head and onto paper.

TimeBridge: www.TimeBridge.com
If you’ve ever tried to schedule a meeting with several busy people, you know how difficult it can be to find a time that works for everyone.  This online meeting scheduler allows all of the invitees to choose a preferred meeting slot, then it finds tha day and time that work the best for everyone.