A “SUMMING” LETTER TO A YOUNGER COLLEAGUE
The Internet Mountain Range
I received this request from a person purporting to be a Dutch Lawyer practicing in Latvia. Since it arrived on the 50th anniversary of my graduation from the WVU College of Law, I used it as the launching pad for a “summing up” of what I have learned practicing law and how I solve problems and make my way. My hope is a 2022 law school graduate may stumble on it as she or he enters the daunting world of the legal profession.
From: J Burton Hunter III
Sent: Monday, May 16, 2022 4:20 PM
To: (Omitted) | Counsellor at Law
Subject: Procedures, forms, and a big thank you
Hello (Omitted) ; (I am sending this “monsterpiece” to you. Your inquiry, below, was the platform for me to write a “summing up article”. It is an extended response to your very reasonable request, below.)
Just give me a short reply so I know you are not a bot, and I will post a final version as a major blog post with or without crediting you, as you see fit. Sorry for delay in gathering the forms, but they have made their way into a dozen “buckets”. Burt)
(Name Omitted’s Letter)
From: (Name Ommitted
Sent: Sunday, May 8, 2022 8:40 AM
To: J Burton Hunter III <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Procedures, forms and a big thank you
Good afternoon mr. Hunter,
how lucky I am to have found your writings!
Let me illustrate why.
I am a Dutch lawyer that practices in Latvia, I studied here.
My clients are mostly foreigners in Latvia and Latvians that live in other EU countries.
Because I am not fluent enough in Latvian, I never considered working in an established firm.
But now that I get busier, I realize I lose out on a lot of hands-on tips on how to organize myself, my cases and client instruction (and behaviour).
I saw your offer to share your handbook and forms, I would be very glad to receive them so I can adapt them to my own situation!
Kind regards from sunny Liepāja,
Counsellor at Law
Indeed you appear to be a real person: I found you: (10) Rick Jacobus de Geest | LinkedIn; and I certainly wish you well. Certain people are comfortable working in large organizations. Others, for various reasons, are not. Each must plot her/his best course. It is better if it is something you love. It keeps you young.
I will send you a DropBox link to my forms, checklists, and informative articles. But I ponder what practical benefit they can provide given our different practice areas, jurisdictions, and geographical locations. It may take a few days for us to make sure we have fully updated forms.
Give me a physical address, and I will mail you a signed copy of my book, “Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer”.
It’s not a “handbook”, but it is 300 pages, published about 3 years ago, on what I have learned as a small-town lawyer. And, I will send you a “digging down kit” that I provide to my clients to help them gather and organize key information/facts/evidence.
I have written and recorded (in YouTube Videos) a lot in the last five years, all accessible to you at no charge. Remember that my blog is “fully searchable”, so you can enter “technology”, “law office management”, or “mediation” and get many “hits”; also terms specific to a practice area, “child custody”, “alimony”, “car wreck”, “personal injury” or “medical malpractice”.
Getting a client to collect and organize information is a challenge, especially when emotions are high. “Digging down” is a manual or paper adaptation of the CaseMap case management system, now (in my opinion) overpriced and owned by Lexis/Nexis. The suite includes several useful modules including a timeline graphic tool.
In family law where managing costs is a high priority, my “ paper digging down system” is invaluable. It is the simple collection and sorting of fact after fact, but hard to explain.
I have yet to perfect that explanation. Here’s my best shot at it. 2021 Revised: Digging Down – On Organizing and Preparing Your Case – Attorney J. Burton Hunter III : Attorney J. Burton Hunter III (hunterlawfirm.net)
I want to stress this point, as I have written many times, my knowledge of typing, using a typewriter, learning the VisiCalc spreadsheet application, Appleworks, Microsoft Works, and other tools, while part of my foundation, would be useless to you, except to illustrate the process. Never forget we are in the age of “accelerating change”. Unless you are a curious lifeline learner, it is going to be a rough ride.
You will have to attend Continuing Legal Education, other online training, YouTube, Edemy.com, Google Scholar, LinkedIn.com, etc. to figure out the best-integrated set of tools suitable for your situation. Easier said than done.
The “visual aid” shown above was the title slide to a seminar I taught a few years ago on law office technology. It shows the many platforms and services available in the “mountain range” of The Internet.
I fancy myself a “problem solver”. The world presents itself to me as a series, and a cascade, of problems to be evaluated and solved.
My mental process is intense and constant. I go fairly deep in my thinking, but I will never adopt meditation or “spirituality” as my guide. While meditation may be a key tool for personal peace for many people. I say, “Mediation not meditation.”
I exist in a vast and endlessly fascinating world, so that is my obsession. Yesterday, the evening news showed us the first photograph of the “black hole” at the center of our universe. There is so much we have yet to understand.
What I am NOT interested in is wasting your time.
I practice law in the State of WV, in a small “county seat” of a rural county called Upshur and a town, Buckhannon.
So, please feel free to stop reading here, and wait for me to send you the book and the link, as I am answering you in greater detail than you may have expected.
In fact, I am turning this letter into a blog article.
May I include you real name and the link to your “Linked In” page? I’d like to, but, if not, you will just be that nameless “Dutch lawyer from Latvia” who reached out to me.
It has happened to me before. I have a lawyer friend in West Central Australia, a young Mormon novelist/photographer in Texas, a “distant cousin” (family genealogist) in Tasmania, and many others. One can find “friends” in many places despite the very real dangers.
If you stumbled on my most recent blog post, then you have the portal to all of my writing and my videos: Our Helpful Resources: Writings and Videos – Attorney J. Burton Hunter III : Attorney J. Burton Hunter III (hunterlawfirm.net)
In the last dozen years, I have written around 1700 blog pages, 450 articles.
My website, which is mostly my writing, is www.hunterlawfirm.net/blog
I include the links to my three YouTube channels.
The Burton Hunter Channel is my personal, mostly “home movie” type of video, but I see that the first entries were intended to inform the public on a variety of subjects. That’s me around 15 years ago.
My “HunterGrandchildren2021 Channel” is simply me reading to my grandchildren and anyone else who cares to listen.
My “J. Burton Hunter III and Assocs., PLLC Channel” has over 60 videos that contain my “take” on certain areas of the law and legal practice.
It is good, solid, stuff for someone trying to survive and thrive in a small firm in WV. The purpose of this response to your inquiry is to make this vast resource useful for you.
I have a rather complete set of intake and related forms and checklists that I haven’t been asked for recently. I have asked my staff to help me find it and to bring it up to date.
I have been a devotee of Roy Lazris’s document assembly application “Pathagoras” for many years, so I will include several hundred forms I have created. They are essentially templates for “fill in the blank” forms. I like it because Roy uses Microsoft Word with no knowledge of “coding” or “programming” required.
The simplest concept is you take a letter, pleading, or business document that you use all the time, but at every place there is “variable” information such as a name, date, jurisdiction, or number, you place brackets “[ ]”.
You hit Alt-D, and a questionnaire appears for you to fill in. Be sure to save it under a specific name, such as Smith.Div.Pet.Mot.05.12.2022, and you are one your way!
It is the same with spreadsheets. I use Microsoft Excel. And I will share a workbook that I use to list all marital and non-marital assets and debts.
It is a great “blueprint” that allows me to show the court a picture of the parties’ finances and then a proposal for how to divide those assets/ debts equitably and thus fairly.
I used the word “cascade” above. That’s what is happening now. A “cascade” of challenges, and a “cascade” of information and tools.
How does one remain “tech savvy” when the trickle of “how to” stuff has become a flood and avalanche?
Recently, I have focused on things useful to me. Pathagoras, of course, but also Evernote and Evernote Clipper and TechSmith’s Snagit, and the task managers, Microsoft To Do and Apple’s “Reminders”.
I stumbled on and have begun to like very much, my iPhone’s “Reminders”. The key there is “voice recognition” and “voice to text”.
e.g. “Siri, remind me to take my phone with me to work.” “Remind me to go to the store after I leave the office.” Remind of (book), (podcast), (new item).
It is an essential part of my day now to be able to look up that author, book, song, or article.
It lets me curate the information that gets into my head before it leaves.
Evernote is the classic note-taking app. The key here is “cross-platform” as it is for “To Do” and other apps that must be accessible on my Dell Latitude Laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad. I don’t fuss with myriad notebooks or “tags” because Everyone is “fully searchable”. I have an “archive” and an “e-mail default inbox” notebook which work fine for me.
I find having Microsoft’s applications, Apple ios, and essential Google apps, especially Google Photos and Chrome, essential to my practice, also Maps and Search.
Others might want to limit themselves to the Google/Android world, ios, or Microsoft, but I find I can make no sense of Microsoft’s “Onenote” (perhaps because the tutorials/courses give my no anchors to our “real work”, just how to create or modify “notes”). If you can figure that out, more power to you.
I take courses sponsored by the WV State Bar, WV Association for Justice, Kanawha County (WV) family bar, National Business Institute (NBI), and others, by Udemy.com, Linked In Learning, and, my favorite, anything that strikes my fancy on YouTube. I can’t count how many videos I have watched on how to build a French Drain, a work table, a sawhorse, and the rest.
My favorite “geek” is the “Canadian Boomer” and dog lover, Steve Dotto, “DottoTech”. “How are you doing this fine day.”
Steve will lead you through Snagit, Google Photos, Evernote, “To do” and the rest in a 5-30 minute video. He is prolific and he is free although I am sure you can have a paid subscription.
I get nothing from any of the products I mention. If I get “hit by lightning” and become rich and/or famous, that will be fine. Perhaps I’ll be “discovered” after I pass.
For now and here, I am happy that learning, studying, doing, and sharing are so satisfying to me.
But one doesn’t survive 50 years in the contentious “world of lawyering for the little guy” without taking some lumps, having some experiences he’d rather not have had, and suffering plenty of stress. It crushes some of use, but I think it grinds down most of us.
I have been reminded lately that lawyers and judges are simply persons. We suffer tragedy and grief, happiness and triumphs, and become foes or friends.
Sometimes, regular adversaries become friends. It is easier if one of use retires. Right Bill and Chuck? 😊
As I view your Linked In page, I question whether my forms will be of much help as my practice is Personal Injury, Insurance Bad Faith, Family Law, and Civil Litigation and you are working in a foreign country, outside of even the English Common Law, with traditions, lawd, and government different from ours.
But people are people, and people is “my thing”.
I have had my law license for almost exactly 50 years, as I graduated from the WVU College of Law in May, 1972.
I have built my knowledge by:
- Being insatiably curious; not just the law, nature, science, history, biography, philosophy, religion, and technology. I was a “science fiction” geek most of my life. I have drifted from it but still enjoy a good “sci fi yarn”.
- I am guided by certain books and movies: “Horton Hatches an Egg” and “Horton Hears a Who” by Doctor Seuss; “Princess Bride”, “The Verdict” and “Cool Hand Luke” starring Paul Newman. These stories help me define the boundaries of my morals, ethics, and existence.
- And the essay, “Natural Law” by the great jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who was severely injured in The United States’ Great Civil War, as was one of my great-great Grandfathers, Michael Miles O’Grady.
- Holmes argues against any moral absolutes, no burning in hell, heaven, or divinely inspired knowledge of right and wrong.
- He opted for “can’t-helps”. So, I have written much of my background, life lessons, inspirations, and mistakes, which have created in me, as in Holmes, certain standards and principles and theories that I “can’t help” believing as true and valid, for me and for humankind.
- These foundational beliefs and values were taught, of course, by the wave of insightful teachers and prophets, The Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Janes, the Judaic tradition, Confucius, the Janes, The Stoics, and others.
- Inevitably, as these people tried to teach “simple folk” principles of empathy, charity, tolerance, and non-violence, they or their followers had to “dumb it down” and set rules.
- They had to back up the “rules” with punishments, rewards, rituals, and promises. I instinctively recoil from such stuff. I prefer to figure it out for myself, even as a stay in my traditional church, sing traditional anthems in our choir, and follow, as best I can, a moral and ethical path.
- My “religion” tells me that we are too primitive a species to understand our own existence. There is no evidence that our superficial myths or legends are true. My guess is they cannot be true.
So, what do I think you should “take” from this letter?
Develop and nourish your curiosity.
Don’t do things as the other guy does it. Absorb lots of sources and do it the way you think is best.
Give more than you get.
Recognize that there is much misinformation out there and avoid “conspiracy theories”, propaganda, racial and ethnic prejudice, right-wing extremists, “lefty do-gooders” and people who are simply wrong-headed.
Figure your own way to educate yourself. In that case, you will be an “auto-didact”.
Of course, take your mandatory C.L.E. and more than they require. But read and study far and wide and apply what you learn to what you do.
And, do what you love, and “don’t be afraid”.
And in the end, we die.
A FEW SELECTIONS
This post was written by Burton Hunter