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Workplace Email: The Devil Made Me Do It

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 2, 2012In: Jerks at Work, Resources, Tech Tips

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People manage email in different ways. Some of us use our Inbox as a task list, filing everything that does not need attention.  Others use their Inbox as a storage site for any email that they may ever want to refer to again. You can imagine which group is better liked by IT departments across the globe.

We also have different standards for what is and is not acceptable from a usage or style perspective.  Emails that disregard sentence capitalization, for example, opting to use only lower-case letters, may drive some readers bonkers. Others may be more troubled by email senders who elect to use an atrocious and distracting “stationery,” which translates roughly to a pale beige background with fuzzy gray dots arranged in a grid pattern on which it is impossible to read any text smaller than 24 pts in bold font.

But what about the content of our emails?  There are tricky aspects of that, too, as many of us are all too well aware. Why is it that readers so often misinterpret messages as having a far more sinister or simply unfriendly intent?

Scott McDowell suggests some reasons in his post, Email Etiquette II: Why Emoticons (And Emotional Cues) Work.  I’ve been seeing a lot of articles like this lately and am thoroughly convinced of the accuracy of their premise. In short, despite our attempts to sound conversational in email correspondence, the electronic nature of the exchange prevents an actual conversation from occurring.  Without the chance to translate body language, intonation, and facial expressions, as we do so naturally during in –person conversations, we’re left to our own imaginations when putting emotions to the text we see on the screen.

And, as the post explains, if an email’s content is neutral (as many of us aim to achieve in our day-to-day business correspondence), he reader is more likely to assume that the tone is negative.  This theory of “negativity bias,” which is credited to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, also holds that, when the email’s tone is positive, the reader interprets the tone as neutral, as Mike Maslanka previously explained. 

So what’s a well-intended email author to do? smiley face icon

McDowell suggests an increased use emoticons.  Admittedly, I use a lot of smiley faces in my casual correspondence. I know, I know, it’s not exactly the most lawyerly way to write an email but it does the trick.  When used properly, the winking smiley face can lighten the tone of an otherwise serious-sounding sentence.  But I don’t imagine that I ‘d use a smiley face or even a winking smiley in an email to a new client with whom I don’t already have a rapport or who doesn’t already know smiley-type personality. 

Perhaps there’s an app waiting to be developed here—emoticons for the business environment. A little bow-tie wearing smiley face, maybe? Or maybe the smiley face could don a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, thus appearing both smart and friendly.

Until then, I’ll offer my own humble suggestion—not to to senders but to recipients. If you receive an email from a coworker or other person you generally consider to be on your side of the shooting range, and you have a moment of doubt about the tone or intention behind an email you receive, make an effort to start from the assumption that it’s positive or, at the very least, neutral. In other words, be consciously careful to avoid assuming that guy or girl down the hall has suddenly switched sides and is now a covert agent operating for the enemy.

iBooks: Coming to a Courtroom Near You?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 12, 2012In: Tech Tips

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Lawyers are notoriously slow to adopt new technology. This is an unfortunate characteristic of my profession. But there are some innovators in the field. And those innovators may be changing the game for the rest of us.

For this Monday morning, I'd like to direct you to one such innovator and how he is putting the latest technology to use. Specifically, the technology being put to use is the iBook. And, now, with Apple's new iBook Author app, publishing an iBook is about as simple as creating a document using Microsoft Word.

And what do all litigators create with Microsoft Word? Briefs. We write lots of briefs. And what happens when you combine iBooks and legal briefs? Total geek heaven. To see a very geeky-cool example of an iBook brief, check out the post, e-Briefs o the iPad: An Exciting New Tool to Give Attorneys an Edge on Cogent Legal Blog. And then be sure to download the sample brief and view it on your iPad.

I'd love to think that this idea will be the next great trend in litigation but, sadly, I don't think its time has come. Mainly because we don't yet have the ability to file this format in the courts' electronic filing system. But I think the iBook format has tremendous potential as a very accessible way to create compelling content for just about any purpose. How can you put this format to work for your organization?

(H/T to Ted Brooks at Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blog)

The Lesson to Learn From University Dean’s E-mail Snafu

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 27, 2010In: Tech Tips

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Wesley University’s Dean of Students was one of several academic advisors who received an email from the school’s Director of Advisement. The email identified a list of students who were in danger of failing out of school.  So far, nothing unusual—the Dean of advisors notifies other advisors of students who probably needed some advice. 

Unfortunately, though, the Dean of Students accidentally forwarded the e-mail to unintended recipients.  In fact, she sent the e-mail to the entire student body.  Once the mistake was realized, the school’s IT Department recalled the message.  The school estimates that approximately 12 students opened the message before it was recalled.  Of course, there’s no way to know how many people actually received the e-mail—the 12 students could have forwarded the email to others, who, in turn, could have forwarded it again. 

This story is an unpleasant one but a powerful reminder to the rest of us to use extra care any time we: (1) forward an e-mail; or (2) copy multiple users on any e-mail.

SourceDelaware Online

Lexis-Nexis Brings Cases to the iPhone

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn January 5, 2010In: Resources, Tech Tips

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Thanks to iPhone J.D. for alerting us to this new app from Lexis Nexis.  Lawyers, you can now get your case law on the go.  According to iPhone J.D.,’s thorough review, the app doesn’t yet give us access to statutes (odd) but it is free, which is a good thing. 

Delaware Code Now Available as an iPhone App

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 12, 2009In: Delaware Specific, Resources, Tech Tips

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Have you ever wanted to carry the entire Delaware code in your pocket? Have there been times you’d wished you’d had Title 19, Delaware’s labor statutes available when you’re not at your computer or near a law library?  Well, if you are the owner of an Apple iPhone, now you can.  The entire Delaware code is now available as an app via the iTunes store for just $19.95.  That’s insanely inexpensive compared to the price of the multi-volume book set you’d have to buy to get the Code in print.  The app gives users access to the full Code in a searchable format, making it easy to find that obscure cite in a flash.

Of course, law firms have been very reluctant to the adaptation of the iPhone, so many lawyers who have iPhones also have to lug around a Blackberry to check their work e-mails.  Still, a Blackberry is substantially less bulky than a couple of shelves worth of hard-bound legal books. Oh, what will technology give us lawyers next?

In case you’re not yet an iPhone user, you can always search the Delaware Code for free online, made available on the State of Delaware’s website.

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Go Digital

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 7, 2009In: Internet Resources, Resources, Tech Tips, U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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The U.S. Supreme Court has taken another step towards “digital enlightenment.” The Court’s website now includes links to pdf files containing the United States Reports, volumes 502 and later.  The U.S. Reports contain the final and official version of the Court’s decisions, typically three to five volumes per Term. Each volume is between 800 and 1,200 pages long, making each pdf file very large.  Large, but packed with valuable information, including, according the Court’s site:

In addition to all of the opinions issued during a particular period, a volume may contain a roster of Justices and Court officers during that period; an allotment of Justices by Federal Circuit; announcements of Justices' investitures and retirements; memorial proceedings for deceased Justices; a cumulative table of cases reported; orders in cases decided in summary fashion; reprints of amendments to the Supreme Court's Rules and the various sets of Federal Rules of Procedure; a topical index; and a statistical table summarizing case activity for the past three Court Terms.

For those who are familiar with Adobe’s Acrobat can create a tremendous resource for themselves by saving these files locally and creating an electronic index for super-quick searches later.  This appears to be yet another mile marker in the road to more easily accessible legal references.

Deposition Exhibits: There Is a Better (Digital) Way

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn August 7, 2009In: PDFs, Tech Tips

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Depositions are critical. Litigators know that an entire case can rise or fall because of testimony given by a deponent. The vital nature of depositions warrants a great deal of preparation in advance by the deposing attorney. In many cases, the documents shape the deposition questioning. It can require a great deal of attention to determine which documents will be used as exhibits.

Here's a quick picture of how my deposition exhibits used to be prepared. The potential exhibits are identified by the lawyer in advance and turned over to the paralegal. The paralegal then makes copies and prepares a separate file folder for each document. During the deposition, when ready to admit a particular document, the lawyer describes the document to the paralegal. The paralegal then begins to search through the bankers' box full of file folders. Once located, the copies are distributed around the table, one is marked by the court reporter, and the deposition continues.

I gave up that method because it seemed so disorganized and difficult. Plus, it required a paralegal spend quite a bit of time to get the documents ready, which meant that I had to know which ones I intended to use far in advance of the actual deposition. The system I currently use takes a fraction of the time to prepare, is far more organized, is easier to use during the deposition, and makes life much, much easier for me, for my paralegal, and for the court reporter.

Here's how it works.

First, I determine which documents I think I'll want to use. It's a low-commitment decision, though, as you'll see. I err on the side of more, rather than less, documents, so if I think I may want to use it, I add it to the "yes" pile.

Once I have a general sense of the documents I intend to use as exhibits, I group them into general categories, instead of admitting each document one at a time. Some documents may end up as a stand-alone exhibit. An employee handbook is an example of a document I'm more likely to move in as a single exhibit. But performance evaluations, for example, are documents I'm likely to group together, sorted chronologically, and call them just one exhibit. Once categorized, these groups of documents become my exhibits.

Of course, all of the documents are already scanned in and my review is usually on the computer instead of in paper, but if, for some reason, they're not yet in electronic form, they would get scanned in now. I assemble the exhibits (the groups of documents), pulling the pages or documents I want into a single PDF file--1 PDF for 1 exhibit.

Next, I add page numbers to the exhibits in Acrobat. To do this in Acrobat 9, just go to Document > Headers and Footers > Add. The Add Header and Footer dialog box opens.

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Place your cursor in the box that matches where you want the page number to appear. If your documents are bates stamped on the bottom right, you may want to put the page number directly underneath that number or you may find it easier to put the page number in the middle of the page, keeping the two numbers separate.

So, let's say you want to put your page numbers in the middle of the footer area. Place your cursor in the box labeled Center Footer Text. (#1). Then choose the font type and size that you prefer. (#2-3). Click Insert Page Number. (#4).

I prefer to include the word "page" before the number, just so it's clear that the number is not otherwise part of the document. To do this, you could type the word page in the box in front of the page number but there is a better way. Click the link that says Page and date number format. (#5).

In the new window that appears, you'll see a drop-down menu of choices for how page numbers are formatted. Choose the one you prefer--in my case, I chose "Page 1" or "Page 1 of n"--and then click, Ok.

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Back in the Header and Footer dialog box, there is one more option worth considering. Click the Appearance Options link. (#6). In the new window that appears, check the box next to Shrink document to avoid overwriting text and graphics. This ensures that your page number won't cover up the contents of the original document.

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Ok, you're almost done. We're almost ready to add the page numbers. Instead of going through these steps for each exhibit, though, we're going to do all of them at once.

To add page numbers to more than one PDF at the same time, click the Apply to Multiple button in the bottom right corner of the dialog box. (#7). Then select Add Files from the drop-down button in the new window that opens and browse to your other exhibits to add them to the list. (To select more than one file at the same time, press the Ctrl key and choose as many documents as you need).

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Once you have a list of all of your exhibits, click Ok.

The Output Options dialog box opens.

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Here, you can decide how Acrobat should handle the newly numbered documents--whether they should be saved automatically, whether they should be saved with a name different than the original file, etc. This is just a matter of personal preference, so make your selections and click Ok.

Now all of your exhibits have page numbers, making the deposition much easier. You'll be able to say, "Please turn to page number 13 of Exhibit 2" and everyone can quickly and easily locate that page. This is especially important in my system because I'm grouping documents together, so the bates numbers do not run sequentially.

If you want to do it right, there's one more step to the process. Using the custom stamp created by guru Rick Borstein, you can add an exhibit stamp to each document with the name it would normally be given--in my case, the witness' name and the exhibit number, i.e., Smith 2.

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You can learn how to install and apply the custom exhibit stamp at Rick's wonderfully informative blog, Acrobat for Legal Professionals.

When all of the exhibits have a stamp and page numbers, I have them copied and inserted into binders with numbered tabs. At the beginning of the deposition, I give the witness, his counsel, and the court reporter a copy, and keep a copy for myself and for my paralegal. We use this binder throughout the deposition and don't have to stop for the tedious document search or to have the court reporter mark each exhibit. It's not only a tremendous time saver, but it allows me to concentrate on the questioning instead of file folders and gives me a guaranteed way to know that I'll cover all of the documents I need to cover.