Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast | Vilius Bernatonis

Vilius Bernatonis is the managing partner of TGS Baltic, a top-tier commercial law firm in the Baltics and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and Vilius discuss the war for talent, why collaboration and leadership are essential across all levels of law firms and how that benefits clients, and the current market in the Baltics.

You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.

Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is Vilius Bernatonis from TGS Baltic. Vilius, we’re so happy to have you join us. Thank you for being our guest this week.

Vilius: Hi Lindsay. Hi, thank you for inviting me.

Lindsay: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your firm and your practice?

Vilius: Yes. Well, maybe I’ll start about the firm because that’s my function basically, because I’m managing partner of TGS Baltic and chair of the board for Baltic States. Because TGS Baltic is full-service firm, we’re working in the three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and we are a leading firm in all of these jurisdictions and acting as a single entity for the purposes of everything related to international work.

So, my personal practice, now I’m answering the question saying, well, my practice is managing right now, that’s my focus I think. That’s where I have to focus right now. When I’m in the role generally as a lawyer, I’m energy and arbitration lawyer, but now I’m focusing on management mainly.

Lindsay: Which is a big role. So, what would you say, I mean, and it’s a big job to do, managing, especially across three countries, three offices. I know they’re fairly close together, but it’s still a big role. So, what would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment and how are you working to overcome that?

Vilius: Yes, we’ve got lots of projects. It’s really interesting job to do, you know? Actually, you mentioned we are small countries, but we speak English to each other. So, the languages are different. I mean, there’s lots of cultural similarity, but also there’s differences so it’s really interesting to do. But the biggest challenge we have in, I think, in all the three Baltic states is the talents, the people. So, gaining and retaining talents is the biggest challenge that we have because we have quite a strong growth in all three offices, and for that growth, we need experienced people and it’s really hard to get. And also, there’s a lot of pressure from various businesses. So actually, primarily the clients are putting pressure on our talents and the lawyers. So, we are very often finding ourselves competing with the clients for good lawyers because there’s really a lot of attractive job offers from the clients right now.

Lindsay: That’s really interesting, and that’s a challenge that I’m hearing from a lot of firms is this sort of war for talent. And I’m wondering how that’s going to play out over the next five to 10 years and what the impact of technology is going to be on that.

Vilius: Yes, yes. Yes, yes, exactly. Yes, technology is another point, but with respect to, it’s a good fight to fight, I would say, because this also helps us to really… and helps people to select the correct place they want to be and what I mean, if you’re in a law firm, you’re basically having your own business. So, it’s like a different approach to life so probably law firms have much less appeal in terms of prestige or even in certain positions in terms of financial offering. But having this freedom of having your own business is still quite appealing and it’s good that we can connect to people who have that internal desire to do their own business.

Lindsay: Absolutely, absolutely. So, can you talk to us a little bit about the current state of the market and what that means for you and your clients?

Vilius: Yes, so in the Baltics, the economies have been doing surprisingly well, I’m saying surprisingly because people were talking about a crisis looming because of COVID and because of Russian aggression against Ukraine for the whole of the past year. Last year in November we were talking about the crisis coming, recession is coming, and people are still talking more or less the same. Basically ’23 has been a very good year for the legal market, but also not such a bad year for local businesses actually. But now of course the situation in the world is volatile and that does impact business decisions of our clients and impacts our business. So of course, we take it as simply a call to focus on more disputes work and more distressed work and so we are ready, even if the recession comes after all.

Lindsay: The beauty of being a full-service firm is that you’re never short of legal work.

Vilius: Yes, that’s true.

Lindsay: Absolutely. So, what is the biggest area, either related to what you do as managing partner or the legal industry in general that you’re curious about, at the moment?

Vilius: Right now, what we’re doing, and this is a very Baltics thing but maybe that might be interesting for listeners because in the Baltics, since these are, although small but three different countries, most of our competition are three different firms just acting under common brand. And this is what we used to be, but now for the last two years we’ve been doing an integration project which basically we have merged equity-wise for international work. So, we basically are sharing costs and profits of international work, and that includes a lot of interesting work. We have a company which is a joint company among the three countries, and we have many projects related to that, branding and public and business development. So that’s a lot of my focus right now is really interesting.

In the market we see, of course, lots of work related to energy transformation in the Baltics because we are champions. The three Baltic states are champions of ditching the fossil fuel. So, when Russian aggression started, we were the first ones in Europe to fully close any imports of Russian energy and that’s a big achievement because we used to be fully 100% dependent some years ago. But since we developed infrastructure, which also had a lot of interesting legal work related to it, we now are fully energy independent. And part of it is that there are lots of developments in renewable energy, in wind and solar energy, offshore wind, onshore wind. So, lots of interesting things happening there, lots of transactions so this is a big mover of the legal markets right now.

Lindsay: That’s really interesting. And it shows that it is possible. I know it can be difficult for countries that are larger to move their dependence on foreign oil, but it shows that it is possible to do that.

Vilius: Oh yes, yes and actually there was a lot of concern about the price volatility, but I would say even the current market trends are showing that renewables are really putting a cap on prices of energy. So yes.

Lindsay: Of course that has to happen too.

Vilius: Yes.

Lindsay: And I think it’s really interesting too what you said about moving from the model of the multiple offices operating under a joint umbrella, becoming more of a merged office, because that is something that a lot of firms operate under, not just obviously in the Baltic states, but across other countries as well.

Vilius: Yes.

Lindsay: So, that is really an interesting topic. And even when you look at more of what firms are doing, bringing in a lot of lateral hires and figuring out culturally how someone brings their entire practice into a new firm and figuring out how culturally you can work together and fit. And that’s happening so much these days, bringing in lateral hires and figuring out how they fit within a new firm and making sure that people can work together really well. I think that’s an interesting challenge to work with.

Vilius: Yes, yes, absolutely. And there’s huge opportunities because as soon as you become kind of one business entity, you find out that your team is also kind of fluid. You can use expertise across country boundaries because it’s only partly kind of jurisdiction-specific expertise because lots of international work especially, look at M&A or capital markets. The expertise is very, very fluid across country boundaries. So, you can make a much better offering to the client also using expertise from different offices, which we didn’t used to do previously.

Lindsay: Absolutely, and I think that’s the way the world works today. Clients are less concerned about knowing the full brand as much as they are being confident that the team that is doing the work knows each other really well and can do that work competently and confidently.

Vilius: Mm, yes.

Lindsay: Yes. So, switching gears a little bit, can you tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know?

Vilius: Oh yeah, well, whatever I do at the law firm, this is my second job because my first job is my family and together with Velina, we have seven children.

Lindsay: Wow.

Vilius: So that’s what many people don’t know. So that’s why our discussion about timing this today. So that’s my first job and that’s a lot of interesting work there. Well, and then it’s also very rewarding actually, so we are really, really busy and happy at the same time.

Lindsay: That’s great. What are your age ranges for your children?

Vilius: Yeah, I have all the ranges. I have from 18, the oldest is 18, the youngest is four months.

Lindsay: Oh, wow. That’s a big range.

Vilius: Yes.

Lindsay: That will certainly keep you busy. Absolutely.

Vilius: Oh yes, yes. It keeps us busy and it keeps us interesting. It’s really interesting kind of growing up with them.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Vilius: We learn a lot every day.

Lindsay: That’s true, that’s true. Children certainly do teach you plenty about yourself and them.

Vilius: Yes, yes, yes, exactly, exactly.

Lindsay: How about someone who has been a mentor over your career?

Vilius: Mm. Yes, mentoring is actually also a very interesting topic. We have a centralized mentoring project right now for all the leaders of practices in our Vilnius office, but my career mentor was Eugenija Sutkiene, the founder of our firm in Lithuania. So, we’ve been together for 20 years now this year. So, it’s been a long journey and that was really, really a person I learned a lot from. So that was a big… So, she was and remains a very important mentor for me, professionally. Also, during those years I’ve met so many really bright people to whom I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn.

Lindsay: That’s great. Would you say that there’s one important lesson that you’ve learned over your career, maybe from your mentors?

Vilius: You know, I would say a lesson I’m learning still, but I know, so learning in a sense, it takes effort to acquire the skill, but really, and this is maybe not so much from mentors, but maybe from my partners is ability to listen, especially as a lawyer, I tend to have an opinion very quickly and the clients kind of like that. But in a team this is not always helpful. So ability to listen really and understand what the other people are saying, the other kind of point of view, maybe some point of view I don’t immediately agree with is really a big lesson, but as I said, I’m still trying to learn.

Lindsay: That, I think, is a lifelong lesson for all of us.

Vilius: Yes. Yes, probably.

Lindsay: I don’t know anybody who’s really good at that.

Vilius: Probably.

Lindsay: What is something that people misunderstand about your field of work?

Vilius: You know, that’s one thing I would say generally, and I’ll talk about management now, but I think in a law firm, partners very often underestimate the role of management. And I’m not only talking about my role as managing partner, that maybe is more understood, but role as manager of people, like group leaders. Very often this is seen as something in addition, something to be done after hours, so to speak. When you’re finished with your legal work, you kind of come to it. And this is the biggest mistake any leader could do. And this is what, as I said, we’re having this leadership project.

This is one of the things we’re trying to learn, that no leadership is your number one task and then come the clients, actually, and this is very hard for people to understand because obviously clients are more urgent, typically, and more readily demanding and so on. But still, so I would say this is the biggest misunderstanding is actually… the power of leadership is misunderstood, and I find that many people, many partners actually miss out so much on what they could achieve through other people through the group. So, I would say that is the biggest misunderstanding.

Lindsay: That’s a really important point. And I wonder if that’s because in law school there is so much this focus on obviously learning the importance of the law and studying the law and then also the first thing you learn is how to take care of clients, especially when you get out of law school is the first thing you learn is billing and dealing with clients. And so, you never really get to the point where you’re learning how to be a leader, either in law school or just out of law school.

Vilius: I agree. I agree. But also, all of the culture around law is, until very recently, it was single-person culture. Even the TV series are showing kind of superstars rather than these team players and team leaders. And this is what I think has to change if we don’t want to become extinct actually, because this individual merit and individual result that we can achieve is actually going to be under lots of pressure. And actually, team effort is what is going to bring us… Where the future lies.

Lindsay: Absolutely. It’s going to be a collaborative win for everybody. Collaboration is the future.

Vilius: Yes, and collaboration, you know, collaboration with other lawyers, but this is only first layer. Collaboration with non-lawyers, collaboration with IT people, collaboration with IT itself, you know? AI and so on. So, the sole kind of superstar from the [inaudible 00:18:35] is, yes, is history, I think.

Lindsay: Mm-hmm. I totally agree. I totally agree. Okay. So, can you tell us about a client that changed your practice?

Vilius: Mm. Yes, it was years ago, but that was really an interesting experience. I had one client who later became clients but that moment, we were on different sides of the table, negotiating, and that was probably the most difficult deal I had because the person was more into all of the details and all of the documents than the lawyer they had. And this guy was not a lawyer, and so he was into a lot of details and a really detailed person. So, every time you produce a longer text with a longer provision of an agreement, it would take hours and hours, we would sit into night with him trying to explain, “Okay, why do you use this word or that word?”

But this guy taught me to really not use, to write things in not too many words, not too few words, but not too many as well you know? Like every word you used has to have a function. So that was a hard learning but yeah, when you asked me, this was the kind of situation I would say where I really learned from a client. It was probably interesting for him. We spent hundreds of hours together and it was really, the guy was a heavy smoker, and in those days it was possible to smoke inside, so it was really kind of difficult experience, but a lot of learning.

Lindsay: Sometimes I find those challenging clients, they really do help you and teach you. You don’t understand it in the moment, but you do understand it looking back.

Vilius: Yes, yes, of course, of course. I mean, I know the difficult way because you think, okay, this guy doesn’t have legal education, so the questions are kind of basic, but at the same time you understand, okay, well if you can’t explain to a layperson, let’s not write this next time.

Lindsay: That’s right. That’s right. Okay. One final question to wrap up, and that is, it’s my favorite question to ask everybody. What is something outside of the law that you’re really enjoying right now?

Vilius: Mm. Yes, my kind of hobby is playing golf, but I don’t have time. Lawyers are notorious for that, so what I’m enjoying, I’m enjoying reading books about golf, at least that. Something I can do late at night or listening to an audio book. So, this might sound weird, but actually it a little bit compensates for my lack of time to go out and play a round.

Lindsay: If you can’t play golf, read about golf, that’s good.

Vilius: Yes, yes, yes.

Lindsay: That’s a…

Vilius: Yes. That’s my kind approach, yes.

Lindsay: That’s a good suggestion to all of our listeners. If you can’t do the thing you love to do, at least try to read about it.

Vilius: Yes. Yes, yes. And there’s lots of business lessons there actually. I was surprised.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Vilius: I was surprised how many, yes, some really good books, which teach you much more than just about the game.

Lindsay: Of course. Yes. I mean, there is a reason business people play golf.

Vilius: Yes.

Lindsay: That’s because there are a lot of business lessons in the game of golf. That’s very true.

Vilius: Yes.

Lindsay: Thank you very much Vilius. I really appreciate your time today. This was a real pleasure. And for all of our listeners, thanks so much for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks so much.

Vilius: Thank you very much, Lindsay.

Mastering Business Communication: Strategies for Success

Refining your communication skills is a constant journey, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting. Here are four actionable steps to elevate your business communication game:

Evaluate Your Communication Channels: Take stock of how you communicate professionally. It’s not just about what you say but how you say it. Whether you’re conversing verbally, writing articles, firing off emails, or engaging on social media, each platform shapes your professional image. Assessing your channels helps ensure consistency in your communication style.

Seek Constructive Feedback: Don’t shy away from feedback; embrace it. Consult trusted colleagues or mentors for honest assessments of your communication skills across various platforms. Constructive criticism, though sometimes uncomfortable, can lead to significant improvements. Remember, growth often stems from discomfort.

Identify Communication Barriers: Pinpoint any obstacles hindering effective communication. Personal tendencies, like introversion or phone aversion, can pose challenges. Acknowledge these barriers and develop strategies to overcome or work around them. Awareness is the first step toward improvement.

Refine Your Communication Techniques: Enhance your skills with practical tips:

Practice active listening: Focus on understanding rather than responding. Engaged listening fosters deeper connections and uncovers hidden insights.

Master nonverbal cues: Your body language speaks volumes. Pay attention to your posture, gestures, and facial expressions to enhance your message’s impact.

Manage stress effectively: Whether in heated debates or exhilarating moments, staying composed is key. Learn to navigate stress with poise, maintaining clarity and control in your communication.

Effective communication is a cornerstone of success in law and business. By implementing these strategies, you can sharpen your skills and make communication your greatest asset.

The COVID Anniversary – Not A Blip but a Sea Change

It’s been just over four years since the world shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some ways, it feels like another lifetime, and I believe that’s a trauma response. But a LOT has changed since 2020. I do firmly believe, however, that the pandemic and the months that we spent at home were not a blip, but a sea-change.

One of my LinkedIn friends, Helen Burness, of Saltmarsh Marketing, said last week:

Facebook declared unsafe for next period.

Memories like this keep flashing up daily.

They are reminders of a time I will never forget.

By way of trauma processing, we remembered the run up to lockdown last night over dinner and key “highlights” of the time. If you can call them that.

😷The brief novelty of Zoom backgrounds as we all pivoted online (demonstrated here)
😷Empty supermarket shelves
😷Dystopian images of central London with no people and traffic
😷Delusions that working parents were in any way online educating their young children whilst trying to sustain full-time working from home.
😷The terror of seeing numbers rise, ominous radio and TV ads telling us to “Stay home, save lives”
😷Massive profiteering of face masks and hand gel. I recall paying £20 for a pack of five disposable face masks and felt like I was winning. Face masks were CURRENCY.

On the more positive side:

🫶Sunday night 80s watchalongs on Twitter with people like Simon P MARSHALL Sameena Safdar and crew.
👏It was a great time for memes. I have kept a lot of them.
👏Finally companies realised the possibilities of remote working.
👐We drove all the way from SW16 to Buckingham Palace one day when we defied shielding as were losing our minds at home. It took twenty minutes only. This will never ever happen again.

It is all to easy to treat the pandemic years as a throw away book in the great novel of life. But it’s so important we remember a virus that had such a huge social and economic cost, the aftermath of which continues to play out.

I did enjoy this whimsical Zoom background at the time though. I think it may have been hysteria setting in.

Helen shared a particularly hilarious Zoom background with her and a delightful chipmunk. I remember having one of our members who was on the Starship Enterprise for a call, and who could forget the lawyer who had to reassure the judge that he was, in fact, “not a cat.”

We all, at times, were a bit hysterical.

But as I said, I certainly don’t think of the pandemic, and the last four years, as a blip in our history that we can move past. For me, it was a whole shift in my life that I’m still processing and likely always will be.

It brought me closer to some people and pushed others out of my life completely.

It fundamentally changed the way that we approach our business in the ILN – I believe for the better! I hope it’s made us more empathetic and engaged with the real lives of the people that we work with and for. We had already decided before the pandemic to create an Executive Committee, but that change happened as the world was shutting down, so my tenure as Executive Director being three months old, bringing on a new chair, and forming a new Executive Committee following the shutdown was a big undertaking. Our Board of Directors moved nimbly and was incredibly responsive – I couldn’t have been prouder of them. They showed up to every video call I asked them to, responded to emails, and got the business of our Network done quickly and efficiently so that we could make the decisions that we needed to.

We were supposed to have a conference two weeks after the shutdown was called, and we canceled the conference on the same day the shutdown happened, and our members responded with kindness, empathy, and an abundance of patience. I knew several other organizations in similar situations who weren’t as fortunate and I must say that we were exceptionally lucky.

All of the communications, both email and video, that we undertook were a masterclass in empathy, connection, engagement, and acceptance. Not everything was successful, but we were accepting of failures and willing to try the next thing. The group really took a lot of things in their stride, and I am endlessly grateful for the leeway that they offered during that period of trial and error.

We were all grateful for the little things – I have always worked to be that way, but it has brought that into sharp relief for me. In part, that was because I went through lockdown with a dying dog and I wouldn’t have been gifted with that time with him otherwise – as a newly appointed Executive Director, I would have been committed to even more traveling were it not for the pandemic.

It’s also made me want to create real change in what I do in all areas of my life – in the US, we had front-row seats to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, who were only the latest in a long and of course, continuing line, of Black people murdered too soon because of white supremacy. I have been able to see and understand how I can make change not only with my vote and my voice but in my community and in the places I have power. That’s true for all of the things that make us human, like women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, becoming a more sustainable organization, and more.

The one thing that never stopped during the pandemic was work. We learned that we could work from home and we found that we were more productive than ever and companies were more profitable than ever – despite this, mental health was at an all-time low, which reflects how broken our systems are. We found out that the true heroes were nurses and doctors and sanitation workers and EMTs and gig economy workers and teachers…and yet as soon as there was a semblance of normalcy, they were quickly thrown away.

But while some things haven’t changed, many important things have. I believe many, if not all, of us will be processing the pandemic years for a long time to come and may not realize the impact that they had on our mental health for some time. I like to look at the silver linings of hard things – not because I’m a Pollyanna or because I believe that everything happens for a reason (I really don’t), but because I believe that if bad things are going to happen, we may as well learn something from them anyway. So from the pandemic, I’m grateful for the time I had with my sweet Barney, the closer connections I gained with my member lawyers and the ability to strengthen our leadership muscles, the push we needed into virtual video connecting, and the ability to fully embrace and endorse the necessary work of DEI and sustainability for the future.

What lessons have you taken away from the pandemic years?

PS – I’d like to give a shoutout to every law firm’s COVID “Hub” and my related post “I don’t want no hubs” which still makes me giggle.

Time Mastery for Lawyers: 5 Essential Strategies for Success

Introducing our comprehensive guide to mastering modern time management for lawyers! Whether you’re juggling billable hours or balancing personal commitments, these five strategies will revolutionize how you manage your time:

Embrace Digital Scheduling: Transition to digital scheduling tools like Google Calendar or Outlook to streamline your workload. From yearly plans to daily to-dos, keep your schedule synced across all devices.

Set SMART Goals: Begin with clear, actionable goals for the year, breaking them down into monthly milestones. With a roadmap in place, stay focused on what truly matters, adjusting priorities as needed.

Master the Art of Delegation: Identify tasks that can be outsourced or shared, freeing up valuable time for high-impact work. Remember, saying “no” to non-essential tasks is saying “yes” to your priorities.

Minimize Distractions: Create a distraction-free workspace to maximize productivity. Turn off non-essential notifications, designate specific focus hours, and prioritize deep work over multitasking.

Make Every Minute Count: Utilize downtime for productivity bursts. Whether waiting in line or commuting, tackle quick tasks like email triage or social media engagement. Every minute adds up to your goals.

Ready to supercharge your time management skills? Share your favorite strategies and join the conversation! Let’s empower each other to thrive in the modern legal landscape.

Dishwashers, Luggage Cake & Client Retention

I’m on hold, listening to what I’m sure this company assured itself was jazzy music, while I try not to grind my teeth together.

It has been four weeks since the dishwasher repairman was here to assure me that it would only be “a few days” before a new dishwasher was installed.

Now, listen, this is REALLY a high-class problem. Plenty of people don’t have dishwashers, because they ARE the dishwasher. I have a new appreciation for that as someone who has spent a lot of weeks washing her own dishes – though I’d really like to be able to boil some dog dishes in the dishwasher again, especially with an ancient basset hound who is more susceptible to bacteria in his advanced age.

But it’s easy to cope with, not a major issue. But it IS something I’m paying for. I have extra insurance that allows me to make a claim when I have certain repairs needed, pay a lesser amount for those repairs and (theoretically) get quick and decent service by vetted repair people. Usually, it goes fine.

But this time, the bureaucracy stepped in, because I know that when the tech recommended a new dishwasher, someone above him insisted that they hunt instead for parts that don’t actually exist for my 30+-year-old dishwasher <<insert comment about how they don’t make ’em like they used to>>.

And so, now, it’s been a month that I’ve waited. The time isn’t the problem – it’s the lack of communication. Except for a cryptic call a couple of weeks ago, when a recording told me that they were canceling a repair appointment that I didn’t know I had because the parts weren’t in yet, it’s been radio silent. I had to call them.

Let’s contrast this with a story I read yesterday on Threads – a travel writer posted that she had arrived in India to find that an airline had lost her luggage. These days, we all know that’s a typical occurrence. Her hotel – and I am going to name-drop them – the Leela Hotel in New Delhi, not only communicated with the airline for her, but they also picked her bag up from the airport when it arrived, delivered it to her room wrapped in a bow AND gave her a cake in the shape of her actual luggage to welcome her back to her room that day.

Now THAT is going the extra mile.

If you’re still with me by now, you may be wondering what ANY of this has to do with lawyers. Hopefully, you’ve already figured it out – it’s all about client service. You don’t have to bake your clients a cake – though I’m going to be honest, it wouldn’t hurt. I also accept cake by the way.

But there are some very important lessons in both of the above stories that are truly relevant:

Communication and Expectations:

Regular updates and transparency build trust.

Set realistic expectations from the outset, tailored to each client’s communication preferences.

Taking Ownership and Prioritizing Quality:

Own and resolve issues promptly, avoiding blame or excuses.

Prioritize client needs over bureaucratic processes, ensuring quality service delivery.

Proactivity and Continuous Improvement:

Anticipate and address potential problems before they escalate.

Seek feedback and continually improve client service processes.

Personalization and Anticipating Needs:

Tailor service to meet each client’s unique needs and preferences.

Anticipate client needs proactively to provide a seamless experience.

Surprise and Delight:

Create memorable experiences through thoughtful gestures and surprises, fostering client loyalty.

The theme throughout the above is obviously knowing your client, which most lawyers excel at and using that knowledge to meet their needs when you communicate with them, continuously improving your services, anticipating their needs, and working to surprise and delight them. This is how you not only make them happy and retain them as clients, but ensure that they are the bullhorn for your services to their peers.

Elevating Your Business Writing Skills

In our ongoing series on essential soft skills for lawyers, we’ve tackled the basics and presentations, and now, we’re diving into the realm of business writing. While you might be proficient in legal jargon, effective business writing demands clarity, conciseness, and accessibility – qualities that resonate with both legal and non-legal audiences alike.

So, how can you enhance your business writing prowess in today’s digital landscape?

Write Regularly

Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. Take every opportunity to hone your writing skills, whether it’s drafting legal briefs or crafting blog posts. However, don’t limit yourself to legal topics. Identify areas of interest or expertise outside the legal realm that you can explore through writing. Whether you’re sharing insights on niche legal subjects or delving into personal interests like cooking or technology, writing consistently is key to improvement.

Choose the Right Platform

Consider platforms that align with your goals and target audience. LinkedIn Publisher offers a built-in audience and is ideal for sharing professional insights. If you’re considering a standalone blog, collaborate with your firm’s marketing team to establish a compelling business case. Selecting the right platform ensures your content reaches the intended audience effectively.

Know Your Audience

Identify who you’re writing for and tailor your content accordingly. Whether it’s general counsel, HR managers, or industry influencers, understanding your audience’s needs and preferences is crucial. Focus on providing actionable insights and solutions to their pain points. Keep your writing clear, concise, and relevant to maintain reader engagement.

Read Widely

Expand your reading repertoire to enhance your writing skills. Explore articles and blog posts on topics similar to your interests. Analyze the writing style of industry thought leaders and identify what resonates with you. Utilize social media platforms like Threads and LinkedIn to discover trending topics and influential voices. Drawing inspiration from diverse sources will enrich your writing style and broaden your perspective.

Engage with Thought Leaders

Engage with thought leaders in your field by responding to their content and sharing your insights. Collaborate on co-authored articles to showcase your expertise and strengthen professional relationships. Look beyond your immediate industry for inspiration and learn from different approaches to business writing.

Seek Feedback

Invite feedback from trusted peers and mentors to refine your writing. Solicit constructive criticism on clarity, tone, and relevance. Use feedback to fine-tune your writing style and ensure it resonates with your intended audience. Embrace criticism as an opportunity for growth and continuous improvement.

Sharing Is Caring

Share your writing with your intended audience and a select group of editorial allies for feedback. Leverage social media platforms to amplify your reach and engage with your audience. Cultivate a culture of sharing and collaboration to foster professional growth and thought leadership.

By honing your business writing skills, you’ll not only enhance your communication abilities but also establish yourself as a trusted authority in your field. Embrace the evolving landscape of legal writing, and you’ll be well-equipped to navigate various professional avenues with confidence and clarity.

RDJ, Mel Gibson, and Cancel Culture

You may have heard that Robert Downey, Jr.(RDJ) won the Screen Actors Guild award a few weeks ago for his portrayal of Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer. I didn’t watch the awards ceremony, but I heard later that RDJ mentioned Mel Gibson in his speech – he was thanking several celebrities who had influenced his career, and Gibson was one of them.

Because of RDJ’s decades-long work on his sobriety, he works hard not to be judgemental of other people, and supposedly this is where his willingness to forgive Gibson for his previous harm to others comes in. Gibson isn’t the only one that RDJ has so willingly forgiven – RDJ has also recently helped Armie Hammer, who was credibly accused of several things (I won’t detail them here, but you can easily google them; no actual charges have ever been filed).

This past weekend, RDJ then won his first Oscar for the same role and seemed to snub beloved actor Ke Huy Quan, which again led to calls for his “cancellation” and referring to him as a “villain.”

This got me thinking about the idea of “cancel culture,” but more specifically that of real and meaningful apologies and changed behavior. It’s a nice idea that RDJ wants to be non-judgemental of Gibson, but if we’re honest, it seems that Gibson is not sorry for the things that he has done and said, including according to this article from the Daily Beast, “racist rants and domestic violence, antisemitic remarks, and homophobia,” not to mention, using the “n-word” a handful of times.

Shouldn’t we be judgemental of that? What’s left if we’re NOT judgemental of that?

And listen, I, too, want to live in a world where we’re reaching across the table to people who think differently from the way we do, to create a level of understanding and friendship. But I don’t want to do that if I’m also harming others at the same time. Is it more important to call Mel Gibson in or to protect the groups of people that Gibson is harming – Black people, women, LGBTQIA+, and Jewish people?

And this is where the idea of cancel culture comes in.

We’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes – some small, some big, and some REALLY big. I’ve made some big mistakes before. And I hope that when I make those mistakes, that someone, hopefully, everyone, is going to give me the grace to learn from those mistakes and to do better.

But I also have to be open to that learning. Not just open, but also understanding of the harm I may have created with the mistake. To know that some errors cannot be easily repaired. That impact IS greater than intent and not everything can be forgiven, even when my future actions show that I’ve learned my lesson.

This is where humility comes in – not humiliation, that’s different – but real, honest humility. Being willing to listen to the harmed party, to understand what I did wrong, without needing or trying to justify or excuse my behavior or words. And then a willingness to change my behavior.

Cancel culture exists because people are not truly apologizing. They’re either not actually sorry that they upset and harmed someone in the first place or they don’t believe they did anything wrong (see: Mel Gibson) or they just want the whole thing to blow over so that they can keep doing what they were doing, hopefully without consequences. Many of them don’t understand what the big deal is, or they feel like THEY are the slighted party for being called out.

Do we sometimes take the call out too far, because everyone feels like they get a say in what should be a private matter? Sure. Social media has made it possible, and in some cases, people feel it is their responsibility to weigh in on every incident.

And while we may not NEED to weigh in on everything – do I get the irony that I’m weighing in on a cultural happening here on my blog? I do – there’s nothing wrong with using things that happen in society to reflect on them in our own lives, with our own networks, and to use them as discussion points for our friends, families, and connections. As the memes often say, “[insert famous person] may not see your careless and callous comment about them, but your friends and family will.” And isn’t that the truth?

What does ANY of this have to do with lawyers?

The legal industry doesn’t exist in a bubble. We CERTAINLY can benefit from being called in, humility, and understanding what cancel culture truly is. I’ve spoken before here about real and meaningful apologies and I believe that they’re something that every good leader – and honestly, every good human, should understand how to make. We’re in an age of reckoning, whether it’s with racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, classism, or a litany of other things, these are issues that we must consider within ourselves and our organizations.

All of us – every person – will make mistakes. We can’t lead perfectly or succeed at work perfectly. Failure IS human. And that’s great news. But what we DO with that failure is important. When we harm someone with our words or actions, and especially if they are brave enough to let us know that they have been harmed, we have the opportunity to try to repair that harm, both with our words and our future actions. It will still be like a broken plate that’s been glued back together – not quite as good as if we’d never broken it. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t do our best.

In closing, as we navigate the complexities of accountability and forgiveness, let us not merely contemplate these issues but actively engage with them. Let us challenge ourselves to confront harmful behaviors and attitudes, both in ourselves and in others, with humility and a commitment to growth. By fostering genuine dialogue, acknowledging the impact of our actions, and striving to make amends, we can contribute to a culture of accountability and compassion. Let us embrace the opportunity for personal and societal transformation, recognizing that change begins with each one of us. Together, let’s work towards a future where understanding, empathy, and genuine accountability prevail.

4 Key Strategies for Mastering Legal Presentations

As we started to discuss last week, in the realm of legal practice, mastering soft skills is just as crucial as understanding the law itself. One such skill that often requires refinement is the art of presentation. Whether you’re a fledgling attorney or a seasoned professional, effective presentation skills can significantly bolster your career trajectory.

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: public speaking. For many, the mere thought of standing before an audience induces a sense of dread. Trust me, I get it. However, even if public speaking isn’t your forte, cultivating this skill can pay dividends in various professional scenarios. As an introvert myself, I’ve found that embracing public speaking has not only bolstered my confidence but also enhanced my ability to communicate effectively in diverse settings, from networking events to impromptu meetings.

Unfortunately, formal education often overlooks public speaking as a crucial skill. While you might excel at arguing cases in law school or the courtroom, captivating an audience requires a different set of abilities altogether.

So, what can you do to hone your presentation prowess?

Practice, Practice, Practice

Embrace every opportunity to speak publicly, starting small if necessary. Consider volunteering at charitable events, alumni panels, or within your firm.

Rehearse rigorously. Crafting your presentation well in advance allows ample time for practice, helping you iron out any wrinkles and boost your confidence.

Ask for Feedback

Solicit constructive criticism from friends, mentors, and trusted colleagues. Their insights can offer invaluable perspectives on refining your delivery and content.

Engage in role-playing exercises with industry mentors to simulate various speaking scenarios, from Q&A sessions to business meetings.

Record and review your presentations to identify areas for improvement, including body language and audience engagement.

Watch Others

Study compelling speakers both online and locally. Analyze their techniques, from body language to speech patterns, and incorporate elements that resonate with your style.

Attend local speaking engagements to observe diverse presentation styles and glean insights for enhancing your delivery.

Seek Expert Assistance

Join a local Toastmasters club to practice public speaking in a supportive environment and receive constructive feedback.

Consider enrolling in an improv class to sharpen your improvisational skills and bolster your confidence in handling unexpected situations.

In essence, effective presentation skills transcend mere public speaking; they empower you to articulate ideas convincingly and connect with your audience authentically. Whether you’re advocating for a client in court or delivering a keynote address, mastering the art of presentations is a professional asset that transcends the confines of legal practice. So, embrace the challenge, and let your voice be heard.

Responsiveness: The Overlooked Key to Building Successful Client Relationships in the Digital Age

In today’s hyper-connected world, our devices keep us tethered to work even during off-hours. While taking breaks is crucial for well-being, being responsive remains a cornerstone of client and business relationships. Yet, it’s surprising how often this simple aspect is overlooked.

It’s a major pet peeve of mine when emails go unanswered, and I know many share this sentiment. Let’s delve into why responsiveness matters and how it’s an easy fix.

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Sharing the Spotlight: Amplify Your Business Growth Through Strategic Content Collaboration

In today’s landscape of business and relationship development, sharing content has become a cornerstone strategy. While it might seem counterintuitive to share the limelight with others by quoting or referencing them in your articles and posts, it’s not only essential but also a savvy business development practice. Here’s why:

It establishes you as a good content citizen: While we all understand the importance of avoiding plagiarism, acknowledging the sources of inspiration behind our ideas is equally crucial. Recognizing the contributions of others not only upholds ethical standards but also enhances your credibility and authenticity in the eyes of your audience.

It adds value for your audience: Sharing content isn’t just about showcasing your thoughts and words; it’s also an opportunity to introduce your audience to other insightful voices. By linking to the original work or profiles of those who inspired you, you enrich the experience of your audience and demonstrate a commitment to providing diverse perspectives and resources.

It’s a strategic move: Leveraging others’ content can be a strategic tactic in your business and relationship development efforts. Suppose there’s a potential client or influencer whose attention you seek. In that case, you can use their content as a springboard for your ideas. By referencing and tagging them in your posts, you not only acknowledge their contributions but also initiate meaningful connections. This approach opens doors for collaboration, fosters reciprocity, and expands your network in a genuine and organic manner.

As you prepare to craft your next article, blog post, podcast, or presentation, reflect on the sources of your inspiration and how you can best acknowledge them. Whether it’s through direct quotations, citations, social media tags, invitations to collaborate or share the stage or microphone, remember that giving credit where it’s due is not just good practice; it’s a testament to your integrity and respect for the collective knowledge within your community.

So, as you embark on your content creation journey, embrace the spirit of collaboration, and let your content serve as a beacon of authenticity and generosity in your professional endeavors.