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3 New Leaves Every Lawyer Should Turn Over in September

by Jay Reeves |

Okay here’s a little quiz. Where does the phrase “turning over a new leaf” come from?

(a)   Raking your yard
(b)   Reading a book
(c)    Eating a salad
(d)   Promising your malpractice carrier that you will never, ever miss another deadline.

If you answered (b), congratulations.

When you read a book, you turn one page – or leaf – at a time. In some places around the world, books are still produced on actual leaves bound with twine. Each new leaf brings new information, a fresh start.

This fall, you can build a safer, more effective practice by turning over three new leaves.

1. Stop Thinking So Much

Have you ever been working on a brief only to hit a dead end? You simply cannot come up with the right words.

Perhaps you are standing in the courtroom and your mind suddenly turns to mush. You have no idea what to say. You might not even remember which side you are on.

Or you run into a close, personal friend whose name mysteriously – and embarrassingly – eludes you.

Join the club.

We have all choked at crunch time. It happens to everyone, including professional athletes who practice punts, passes and putts for hours only to come up short when the game is on the line.

Now scientists are explaining why. It seems we tend to overthink – especially in critical situations, and this is not a good thing.

“Psychologist Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago calls it paralysis by analysis,” says  Yahoo News. “Beilock, author of the book “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To” contends that too much thinking at the wrong time can lead to logjams in the brain.”

Or as the guru Yogi Berra said: “You can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.”

Here are some solutions:

  • Give your brain a rest. Take a shower or go for a walk, then resume your project.
  • Distract those balky neurons by putting on music or rearranging your workspace.
  • Trust your muscle memory. You do not have to instruct your heart to keep beating or your lungs to keep pumping. Sometimes letting your body do the heavy lifting instead of your brain is just what the doctor ordered.

2. Break Bad – And Do It Now

Nobody enjoys being the messenger of bad tidings. But bad news – you blew a deadline, your motion was denied, the check bounced – never improves with age. It only gets worse.

Anytime you learn something your client would want to know, tell them. Sooner rather than later. You have an ethical duty of candor and communication.

One caveat: in a case of obvious malpractice where you have professional liability insurance coverage, you should consult with your carrier on when, how and what to tell your client.

3. Persuasion, Not Manipulation

The world would be a much better place if everyone in it would simply do what I want them to do.

Unfortunately, they don’t always cooperate.

Often the problem is that we try to achieve our ends by means of manipulation. We use carrots and sticks. We coax, plead and cajole. We resort to deceit when necessary.

Persuasion is a better strategy.

“Manipulation is coercion through force to get someone to do something that is not in their own interest,” writes business blogger Jason Nazar in Forbes. “Persuasion is the art of getting people to do things that are in their own best interest that also benefit you.”

Nazar offers a few suggestions for honing your persuasive skills:

  • Pick the right targets. Not everyone is open to having their minds changed.
  • Choose the right time and place. When it comes to persuasion, context is everything.
  • Be interested. If you do not believe in what you are saying, nobody else will either.
  • Be persistent. Keep asking – but do not try to pound a client, opposing counsel or employee into submission. That is manipulation by force.
  • Be generous. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Show pictures. What we see sinks in more quickly – and more permanently – than what we hear.

These are just three little changes that can make a big difference in your practice. So grab a rake and start turning those leaves.

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He will read his award-winning short story “Nylon and Steel” at the fall and winter CLE programs sponsored by Lawyers Mutual. Contact jay@lawyersmutualnc.com or call 919-619-2441.

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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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