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As attorneys, we cannot underestimate the importance of clear and effective writing. In many instances, our writing is the first impression we make on a person, whether it is an email or letter, a motion, a brief or a published article. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for almost anything you might draft:
- Proofread! This may seem obvious, but I am sure we can all agree that grammar errors happen on an all too regular basis, even to the best of writers. Proofread once, and then a second time. When a reader spots a grammar error, it becomes difficult to focus on anything else and the writer’s intended message is no longer at the front of the reader’s mind. Proofread everything – emails, envelopes, captions, and signature blocks included. Proper grammar, usage, punctuation and spelling allow your reader to focus only on the content and message of your writing.
- Know your audience. It is important to know when to be persuasive, argumentative, objective, casual, or formulaic in your writing. The tone and style you choose depends largely on your audience. It could hurt your client’s position if you are too aggressive in your introductory letter to opposing counsel. You may lose a motion if your writing is dry and academic when it should be persuasive and argumentative. Pay close attention to your tone and style and adapt it for each individual reader, if possible. When in doubt, it never hurts to err on the side of formality.
- Organize. As attorneys, we are often required to draft detailed or complex documents. It helps a reader to break ideas down into smaller, more easily understood sections. Judges and other professionals are very busy. If your writing is well organized, it will be easy for the reader to get through quickly and refer back to specific parts later on.
- Ask a friend or colleague to read your work. Having someone else read your work helps to ensure that your reader will actually receive the message you intend to send. A fresh set of eyes will also catch any grammatical errors you might have missed during your own proofread.
- Keep it brief. Always try to keep your sentences short and active. Use as few words as possible and avoid saying in three sentences what you could say in one. Brevity will keep your reader engaged and interested through your entire piece.
It can make even the strongest quiver with fear. It can be the source of both extreme pleasure and severe depression. It’s also something almost every attorney must endure. No loyal City View readers… this isn’t another article about how to navigate the murky waters of networking. This article covers a topic even more dubious and panic-inducing—your yearly evaluation.
Evaluations are stressful because of the element of the unknown. You think you’ve done a good job, but what if it turns out your boss was just being nice to you throughout the year because he was biding his time, waiting until your yearly review, to deliver that crushing blow about your sloppy work or your surly attitude? Compounding the anxiety, in some employment settings, the evaluators are anonymous, so you fear you’ll be left to wonder who made that negative comment about your “angry face” or your abysmal Bluebooking skills.
Fear aside, if you go in prepared, you may find yourself leaving your evaluation with a smile on your face. Here’s why: evaluations give you a great opportunity to talk yourself up to your supervisor(s) and explain your foibles in a captive setting. They can also be a great way to check the temperature on how you’re doing.
So what should you do the next time evaluation season rolls around? First and foremost, you need to do your homework. Conduct a self evaluation by comparing your beginning yearly goals to where you currently stand. It’s important that you look at yourself and your work as a whole for the entire year—don’t get caught up on that project you felt like you bombed last week—especially not if it was the exception rather than the rule. Instead, ask yourself where you routinely excelled and where you can do better. Be honest—don’t go easy on yourself in case your boss doesn’t either. Then, have a plan on how you can improve.
Additionally, you should consider whether you have any questions for your supervisor. Are there any projects you want to try next year? Are there any skills you want help in developing? In order to calm your nerves, it also might help to ask more senior employees in your position how the process works and for what to be prepared. Ask them how long the evaluation lasts and how formal it is. Ask if there will be salary discussions and, if possible, try to find out what to expect on that front as well.
Once you’ve done your homework, go into the evaluation with courage and be ready to accept criticism. None of us are without flaws and none of us are “on” 100% of the time. Especially as young lawyers, we need to harness the criticism we receive and try to improve from it. This is sometimes easier said than done, but going in having steeled yourself to being critiqued can take out the sting. Also, if you did your homework, hopefully you will be able to follow up that criticism by articulating how you plan to improve. Equally important, make sure that you take some time in the evaluation to explain your perspective and highlight your strengths.
Finally, if none of my advice has made you feel any better, just remember this: you only have to survive evaluations once a year.
January predictably marks the beginning of new goals for many - from expanding a client base to making time to hit the gym. A few weeks into the New Year, the Cincinnati legal community is paving the way for continued successes and new achievements. For law students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, 2013 is off to an eventful start with growing experiential learning opportunities. Each semester, students are encouraged to engage in practical lawyering experiences, whether through part-time employment, volunteer work or externship placement. The goal is to enhance the law students’ education while assisting various legal organizations in the community.
Law firms, corporations, public interest and government organizations continue to host law students. Over fifty Cincinnati Law students are participating in an externship this semester, one of the largest classes in recent years. There are a number of new organizations taking advantage of these programs, including the Talbert House Fatherhood Project, Catholic Health Partners, Su Casa, Grange Insurance Company, City of Cincinnati Human Resources – Office of Labor Relations, and the Office of the Butler County Public Defender to name a few.
Some other exciting opportunities new for the year include:
- LLM in the US Legal System: The University of Cincinnati College of Law recently launched a master’s degree program for practicing attorneys and law school graduates who received their legal education outside the United States. LLM students improve their English legal writing skills, develop an in-depth understanding of the U.S. legal process, and hone in on the particular areas of law that most interest them.
- A part-time option is available at Cincinnati Law through its Flexible Time Program, allowing students to complete the JD degree in 8 semesters over 4 years instead of the traditional 6 semesters over 3 years.
- The Brandery, a non-profit consumer marketing venture accelerator, will be hosting University of Cincinnati College of Law students this summer to further its three-month long program for start-up businesses.
The College looks forward to what unfolds over the next twelve months and the role that the bar plays in our community.