Tag Archives: teamwork

Simply Studying—Not School—Makes Lawyers Smarter, Study Shows

Entrance exams supposedly measure a person’s aptitude and acumen. It turns out, however, the exam itself could be responsible for both.

According to a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley, published in the online journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, applying to law school won’t just test your intelligence, it will increase it.

Apparently, studying for the LSAT reinforces circuits in the brain and can bridge the gap between the right and left hemispheres, which, according to researchers, can improve an individual’s reasoning ability and possibly IQ score, reports Sam Favate for the Wall Street Journal.

The research study looked at brain scans from 24 college students and recent graduates before and after they spent 100 hours studying for the LSAT over a three-month period. Then the researchers scanned 23 young adults who did not study for the LSAT.

Among those adults who studied, the brain scans showed an increase in connectivity between the frontal lobes of the brain, as well as between the frontal and parietal lobes, which are the areas of the brain associated with reasoning and thinking, summarizes Favate in the Wall Street Journal.

Unsurprisingly, the study shows that students can, in fact, improve test performance with time and practice. Tutors and LSAT prep courses are certainly listening to the cash register ring at this very moment.

But, more importantly, the study also indicates that analytical skills can be honed into adulthood. Critical thinking and eye for detail are actually skills to be cultivated, not born to an individual or certain personalities.

“What we were interested in is whether and how the brain changes as a result of LSAT preparation—which we think is, fundamentally, reasoning training,” said lead researcher Allyson Mackey, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

“We wanted to show that the ability to reason is malleable in adults.”

Therefore, it seems standardized tests, IQ measurements, or entrance exams—whether to obtain an education or a profession—cannot measure a person’s true potential. Once a person starts to actively read, study, learn, or even play games, cognitive ability will increase.

That means, at your law firm, encouraging associates to take night courses, learn new languages, or simply research outside their immediate responsibilities will ahve high returns on investment.

The value of your human capital can increase over time, with the right motivation. So, instigate round-table debates and provide forums for discussion for your lawyers.

Not only will these activities make your employees smarter, it will also make them happier.

When employees are not intellectually engaged at their place of employment, productivity and work satisfaction fall. This translates to lower revenue for your firm and sloppy casework for your clients.

In a 2010 study by James K. Harter and colleagues, lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance for companies, according to the New York Times article, “Do Happier People Work Harder?”

In fact, Gallup estimates that the cost disgruntled American workers is a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity each year (via NYT).

So, why not dust off your LSAT book and earn a few more dollars (and brain cells) by learning something new. Solving that logic problem today may, surprisingly, help you solve problems in your most recent case matter tomorrow.

All work and no play makes Jack, attorney-at-law, a dull (and dumb) boy.


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Courts Rule, Seriously People, Machine Guns Not OK (& Other Legal Debates)

If the Mars landing wasn’t controversial enough for you, spice up this Friday with an inter-office debate about gun control.

The Supreme Court has recognized an individual’s right to keep and bear arms since 2008. Because it conveniently refused to say which types of arms, several other lower courts have filled in the gaps.

The U.S. courts of appeals for the Third, Sixth, and Eighth circuits have each ruled that no right exists for individuals to own a machine gun, according to the WSJ Law Blog. Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is joining this group of gun-control advocates.

On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit held, “We agree with the reasoning of our sister circuits that machine guns are ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’ that are not protected by the Second Amendment. An object is ‘dangerous’ when it is ‘likely to cause serious bodily harm.’ Black’s Law Dictionary 451 (9th ed. 2009).”

“A modern machine gun can fire more than 1,000 rounds per minute, allowing a shooter to kill dozens of people within a matter of seconds. See George C. Wilson, Visible Violence, 12 NAT’L J. 886, 887 (2003). Short of bombs, missiles, and biochemical agents, we can conceive of few weapons that are more dangerous than machine guns.”

The timing of this ruling is certainly not lost on the general public.

The movie theatre shooting in Colorado and then the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin shortly thereafter bring the subject of gun control, especially multiple automatic weapons, to the forefront.

And, these events, including the legal rights and obligations surrounding the persons involved, can be at the forefront of discussion during your firm’s roundtable.

What is a therapist’s legal responsibility and protection for reporting the suspicious statements of her patients? How did these men obtain the legal permits and weapons used to carry out these shootings? What legal right for recompense do the families of the victims have against which agencies or individuals?

Yes, attorneys have busy schedules. But, when employees are not intellectually engaged or happy at their place of employment, productivity falls. That means lower revenue for your firm and sloppy casework for your clients.

In a 2010 study, James K. Harter and colleagues discovered that lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance for companies, according to the New York Times article, “Do Happier People Work Harder?”

In fact, Gallup estimates that the cost disgruntled American workers is a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity each year (via NYT).

In addition, professionals become dissatisfied with their job when it holds no meaning or purpose. Jobs that provide little opportunity to learn or leave a person depleted at the end of the workday will increase unhappiness, according to Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and coauthor of Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want.

So, if there was ever a better reason to create a roundtable debate, happier and more efficient associates—driving a more productive workplace—should create enough fodder for your firm.

Discussions about gun control, space exploration, or other meaningful topics will help employees bond with one another, in addition to voice their opinions concerning significant current events.

If successful, create a monthly forum for discussion of legal topics (not CLEs). Employees can enjoy the intellectually stimulating environment, and even bring in ideas for new cases.

Attorneys find more meaning in their work when it changes lives or laws, which—let’s face it—cannot always be the day-to-day requirements of the job. The job can, however, provide a place to discuss such life-altering legal opportunity.

If nothing else, “Stronger emotional connections at work lead to a myriad of positive physiological and social effects,” Sigal Barsade, the Joseph Frank Bernstein Professor of Management at The Wharton School, said to the HBR Blog.

If a debate over U.S. Second Amendment Constitutional Rights doesn’t get emotional between attorneys, what will?


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U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Teaches Law Firms About Teamwork & Accountability

During the Olympic Games, teams and teamwork are subject to public limelight.

In gymnastics, the sport has recently cut down the maximum number of participants from seven to five. Nevertheless, this didn’t deter the U.S. women’s team of all-star gymnasts.

In 1996 it was the Magnificent Seven, and in 2012, it’s the Fabulous Five.

The New York Times agrees, “Typically, fans in the United States fall in love with the fresh, new face—think of the gymnast Gabby Douglas and the swimmer Missy Franklin—or become obsessed with a team based on dominance and power and might.”

“The Olympic men’s basketball teams are made up of N.B.A. mercenaries, yes, but they are almost always effective mercenaries. They throttle. They pummel. They thump.”

Not to mention the U.S. women’s soccer team and their surprising victory over Canada. Although all but one of the women have been playing together for years in World Cup competition, they were hardly considered a Dream Team.

Now, they’re playing for a gold medal.

“The last 12 hours have been a lot of storytelling about the game with my teammates, a lot of recovery, a lot of talking to family and friends back home who watched the match,” Alex Morgan, the striker who scored the winning goal with 30 seconds left in overtime, said Tuesday (via NYT).

In the story of women’s soccer, the resilience centers on determination, scrappy offense, and individual intensity—as opposed to pure teamwork and talent.

“With this team, it isn’t always pretty, but that’s the thing: they don’t care. They don’t want to choose doing it the right way over winning,” said former United States defender Brandi Chastain to the NYT, who won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals.

And, although Americans will certainly tune in to watch the women’s title-holding redemption on Thursday, coaches will likely worry whether or not this team has it in them to handle a rematch against Japan with so much at stake. After all, nobody has been so harsh on the U.S. team’s lackluster performance as the players themselves.

For scientists, criticism of the U.S. women’s soccer team appears merited. But, only because for centuries, researchers have tracked trends in productivity and team size. In sports, as in business, one person cannot achieve (efficiently) the same workload that, say, a team of eleven might.

Can Team USA really keep it together?

One of the earliest known experiments about teamwork dates back to France a hundred years ago. A set of simple rope pulling experiments demonstrated that people’s efforts quickly diminish as team size increases. They call it the Ringelmann Effect.

Eight individuals, it turns out, do not pull as hard as four. Ringlemann rationalized the deterioration of effort by suggesting it was difficult for multiple group members to coordinate effort; thus, the importance of communication among teams.

So, wait a minute, does that mean the Olympic committee should decrease soccer teams to eight players, or increase women’s gymnastics teams by three?

Hardly. Because the experiment didn’t stop there.

In the 1970s, Alan Ingham and three colleagues decided to recreate the Ringlemann experiment in the basement of the University of Massachusetts Amherst… with a few twists. Ingham and his colleagues’ successfully replicated the same results of Ringelmann’s experiment, but produced a secondary observation.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter whether people are part of a larger team or simply thought they were part of a larger team—in both instances, members worked less hard.

“Thus in a team of six (where three had been asked to pull as hard as they could and three others instructed to pretend), those actually pulling the rope put in only as much effort as they had previously done in teams of six,” explains Mark de Rond for The Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Ingham and his colleagues had demonstrated that loss of effort could not be explained by lack of coordination, as Ringelmann originally thought. Their experiments instead illustrated the problem of social loafing—when team members reduce their effort because they feel less responsible for the output.”

In your office, does this phenomenon sound familiar?

The truth is, law and other professional environments witness social loafing—or, at least, variations on it—everyday.

Bosses worry less about repercussions as long as lower-level colleagues can be blamed; likewise, associates are quick to rationalize any mistake as the fault of senior management or those with a supervisory role.

The greatest asset of teams is the ability to combine the work effort and talent of multiple experts. The greatest weakness of teams is the lack of personal responsibility—or, rather, generalized blame—during times of failure. A person doesn’t try as hard when the winnings are shared and the blame diffused.

For law firm professionals, how do you then ensure 100 percent effort by all team members?

In the Olympics, this is ensured through televised games. Transparency is often the key to productivity and profit.

In the same way, law firm managers should work toward creating more transparent work product. This means, a tick list of individual successes and failures, project progress, and accountability. It also means objective performance reviews on a regular basis.

Incentivizing individual effort made within team projects will also help improve the efficiency of your casework. Making sure associates are rewarded for the how hard they pull the rope (and penalized when they don’t) will improve firm productivity.

“Sports have the edge here in that, particularly in elite environments, systems are designed to measure performance on an ongoing basis, aided by increasingly sophisticated technologies, writes de Rond for the HBR.

“For example, in early 2007 the Cambridge University Boat Club embarked on a controversial experiment. Each week they would post not only objective performance results on the inside door of their ground floor gym but, right next to it, a sheet with five columns to cover subjective assessments by the coaching team. With your name in the first column, the coaches told you what you did well in the second column, and what you didn’t do so well in the third column. The fourth and fifth columns were reserved for what you should stop doing, or start doing, immediately. Though somewhat uncomfortable, this left few places to hide.”

The long hours, physical toil, and mental toll of working hard-—whether in professional sports or professional environments—is, by nature, uncomfortable. But, as any Olympian or award-winning lawyer would tell you, the gain in the end is always worth expending the effort.


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10 Ways Your Law Firm Can Celebrate July 4th

After voting for national independence from Great Britain, America’s Second Continental Congress wrote its Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision to secede.

John Adams wrote about the events to his wife, Abigail:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”1

It took Congress two more days to approve the final wording of the document, but the Declaration of Independence is still celebrated the way Adams envisioned back in 1776.

Today, law firms should be especially reverent of this holiday, as 25 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were lawyers.

So, in honor of the birth of this nation, as well as the esteemed profession of law, below is a list of ways your law firm can celebrate this July 4 in a style to make Adams proud.

1. Host A Staff BBQ

Boost morale and camaraderie among your troops by hosting a July 4 BBQ. The key here? Organize it for July 5 or 6, so that your employees can share time off with their families on the 4th.

2. Surprise Employees With Time-Off

The British didn’t see it coming, so surprise your staff, too. Offer a second day off, in addition to July 4, to toast your team’s hard work.

3. Offer A July 4th Forum For Critique

The Colonies were disgruntled about not being heard by Great Britain, be careful your associates don’t feel the same. In the spirit of this holiday, ask your associates to fill out an anonymous review of the firm and assessment of employee satisfaction. Hopefully, by fostering an open and honest culture of communication and compromise at you firm, employees won’t be tempted to revolt.

4. Resurrect Casual Friday In Red, White, And Blue

It may seem silly, but bring back casual Friday this week. Encourage red, white, and blue attire and reward your firm’s most patriotic citizen with a gift card or cash. It’s a small token of appreciation, but a big step toward de-stressing your demanding office.

5. Donate Blood

The Founding Fathers were willing to shed it, so why not you? Go to the nearest hospital or blood bank to donate some red. In many cities (like at Boston’s Children’s Hospital) saving lives also gives you a chance to win a July 4 gift basket drawing. In 1776, blood was spilled in order to aid a people—let’s aim to do the same.

6. Vote

This year, register to vote. And, not just for the Presidential elections. Research the myriad of other elections happening in your area for judge, mayor, or Congressman. Encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. More than 25,000 American Revolutionaries died defending the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy. Make sure this sacrifice was not laid in vain by picking up a ballot.

7. Increase Pro Bono Work

Holidays spent with loved ones are another reminder that many Americans are without support. Law firms are fortunate to possess a skill in great demand for the less-able. Pledge to offer more free legal services that will commemorate our American pledge for “freedom and justice for all.”

8. Put Out Your Flags

Hang an American Flag outside your office. Alert your community that your firm supports this country, its troops, and its citizens.

9. Invite Your Neighbors To Fireworks, Cookout, Or A Special Event

Holidays are meant to be shared. Get to know your office neighbors, residents, and nearby businesses by inviting them to share in your July 4th celebration. Not only is getting to know the diverse local community an advantageous networking opportunity, it is decidedly very American.

10. Read, in its entirety, the Declaration of Independence

American history is full of literary and legal gems. One of them is the document we are celebrating this week. And, it’s vital—not just for nationalistic pride but also for democratic resolve—to honor our ancestors by rereading their history.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

At your law firm, as in life, it’s important to remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


1. “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, ‘Had a Declaration…’”. Adams Family Papers. Massachusetts Historical Society. Retrieved June 28, 2009.

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How To Restructure Your Office To Encourage Teamwork

French investigators recently found the remains of the Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro in June 2009. Both Air France and Airbus are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crash and the consequent death of 228 people.It’s not the first time an airliner has taken the heat for mass fatalities due to a plane crash. In December 1995, American Airlines flight 965 collided with a mountain just 38 miles from its final destination. Investigation attributed pilot and crew error to the crash, and American Airlines faced numerous lawsuits from family members of the 160 victims. At a critical point in the flight, the pilot and flight crew were discussing flight attendant duty schedules instead of discussing imminent arrival and descent procedures. The lack of situational awareness on the part of the flightcrew and their lack of knowledge of the location of critical radio aids were also key causes of the crash. Had the crew acted more decisively when the Ground Proximity Warning Alarm sounded, research shows the plane would have likely avoided the mountain.Lessons in teamwork make for a life or death situation in air flight. At law firms, lessons in teamwork can lead to the life or death of your case. As in air travel, technology has led to more autonomy on the part of professionals at the detriment of interpersonal dialogue. Email, computer database systems, and case management software, to name a few, have in some ways eliminated the need for personal contact, conversation, or day-to-day coordination among legal professionals. However, traditional values on team performance and leadership are still essential to a successful law practice and should be honed as often as other, more modern competencies, like understanding legal technology.            Work among teams is crucial, since teams are organic, dynamic, and flexible. Teams can be organized horizontally, or exist within a hierarchy—under an elected leader. The brainstorming process is key, and whether or not you realize it, often dependent on proximity. In an office environment, associates tend to seek the advice of the person closest to them. In many law firms, associates on the same hallway or certain floor bond together naturally and form ad hoc teams. It’s easy to seek the advice of a neighboring associate or suitemate by simply walking next door.Therefore, when designing the office, ensure the floor plan reflects a diversity of expertise and gender. Disburse the first-year associates around the office, as opposed to sitting them on the same floor. This will allow them to seek mentorship with older, more experienced attorneys. Make a concerted effort to equally distribute law firm managers, litigation consultants, of counsel, younger associates, and paralegals, rather than dedicating entire sections of the office to one department (or one age group). When it comes to conference rooms, try oval or circular tables so that there is no command seat. Associates will feel more apt to contribute if they’re made to believe their opinions are equal. Also, set seating placement during meetings often promotes power plays, rather than peer brainstorming.             Finally, teamwork can also be encouraged via training seminars and mandatory professional development time. The ability to work cohesively as a group will make all the difference at trial, when attention to detail and clear communication among the members of the legal team means more technical errors are caught in time—and quick decisions made unfalteringly—to save a crashing case.


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