Conference attendees laughed and learned at Thursday morning's opening plenary, "Improv for Lawyers."
Oct. 21, 2016 – Think of your Outlook email inbox like a hospital emergency room that you are managing. If you have 400 or 4,000 people milling around with different health problems needing different levels of attention, somebody is going to die.
"Most people I speak with say their workday is out of control because of email," said Michael Linenberger, who spoke at the 2016 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference (WSSFC) in Wisconsin Dells, sponsored by State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE™. "They have no clear way to prioritize the action requests that come through. So instead of four tasks, they have hundreds of tasks waiting there."
Linenberger, who has written numerous books on how professionals can take control of their workdays, spoke on an issue that many lawyers are likely dealing with on a daily basis: how to take control of overloaded inboxes to be more organized and productive.
"As soon as you convert an email to a task or decide that the email has no action, or it's just informational, I advise immediately moving it out of your inbox," he said. "Some people use folders, I use one folder and call it the 'processed mail folder."
Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Brian Blanchard summarized how the Wisconsin Supreme Court addressed major criminal cases during the recent 2015-16 term.
The Outlook guru showed participants the practical tools to implement the task and email strategies that have helped him stay organized for more than a decade.
Linenberger is just one of many speakers imparting knowledge, advice, and practical tips at an event that annually draws solo and small firm lawyers from Wisconsin and beyond. From substantive law to practice management, from technology to work-life balance and ethics, attendees are learning tools to succeed on and off the field (office).
"If you are not at the Solo & Small Firm Conference, I think you are missing out on what other people just like you are doing to run successful practices. To me, that's invaluable," said Spencer X. Smith, who consults with law firms on social media strategy.
Smith presented "Finding Clients: Breaking through the Digital Clutter," explaining how lawyers can use content and social media as a bridge for new business.
Spencer Smith, Spencer X. Smith Consulting, Waunakee, shares strategies for how lawyers can break through the digital clutter.
Improvisation for Lawyers
If you're a lawyer, you need to think on your feet. You might be "on-the-spot" regularly to provide advice, counsel, answers, and arguments. How well do you do that?
If public speaking or being put on-the-spot makes you nervous, good news. The art of improvisation can help you, and lawyers at the WSSFC received a two-hour training on improvisation from professional improv actors at the Monkey Business Institute.
"Play shops" allowed attorneys to practice communication skills and break down the barriers that hinder quick thinking. Think of it this way: nervousness diverts focus. Once you have the skills to eradicate nerves, your brain's pathways become clear.
"Part of it is desensitizing yourself in those situations," said improv instructor Sheila Robertson. "You get out of your comfort zone in a safe environment."
In addition, improvisation activities can teach attorneys (and other professionals) to accept the hand they're dealt and deliver useful and constructive responses.
Example: The associate approaches the partners and says, 'I want to be a junior partner.' The first partner says 'no.' The second partner says, 'yes, and when you have proven that you can take on that responsibility, you will certainly be considered.'
The "no" response is not productive, says Brad Knight, owner and co-founder of the Monkey Business Institute. "The 'yes, and' approach signals that you are accepting the information and building the narrative together. It's a collaborative way to communicate."
Terry Dunst and wife pose following his acceptance of the 2016 John Lederer Service Award.
Networking is a Lifestyle
Wausau attorney Sarah Ruffi tells a story about networking. It's not about formal networking lunches or events. It's the story of one day in her life.
Whether she's posting planks on Facebook (30-day challenge), talking with her child's teacher or school secretaries, visiting with clients (and their kids), stopping for hot chocolate, attending a Kiwanis luncheon -- every contact is business development.
"They are all referral sources, and they all know who I am," said Ruffi, who runs Ruffi Law Offices and raises four boys with her husband. "I changed my networking to fit my life, not my life to fit my networking. I'm simply building relationships in my community."
Ruffi presented "Networking is a Lifestyle," providing a new perspective on the way attorneys can build their businesses through the golden rule of networking: treat others the way you want to be treated. That applies to every human interaction.
"People want to work with people they know, like and trust. The best way to do that is to go out and be yourself, let them know who you are," Ruffi said.
From left: Nilesh Patel, Spencer Smith, Erin Ogden, and Aly Lynch at the Packers viewing party. Attendees shared in a little friendly rivalry and watched the football game on the big screen.
Football and Other Notes
After day one yesterday, attendees gathered for the Fifth Quarter Tailgate and Packer Party to watch the Green Bay Packers trounce the Chicago Bears, 26-10. The game was analogous to a 30-year litigator (Packers) against a pro se litigant (Bears).
The festivities will continue tonight and tomorrow, when the 2016 WSSFC will close the curtain. Check out the State Bar Facebook page for photos of the event.
And remember that recorded sessions will be available via webcast on Nov. 14-15, and Dec. 8-9. All conference attendees can view webcast sessions they missed as part of their registration package. Check the State Bar Marketplace as those dates near.
Thanks for coming and see you next year! Also, special thanks to all sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, and the WSSFC Planning Committee, chaired by Jeff Krause.