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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
9/27/2012 10:25:53 AM

Book Review: Client Science

Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients through Bad News and Other Legal Realities, by Marjorie Corman Aaron. Oxford University Press, 2012, 288 pages. Paperback, $39.95, ISBN 9780199891900.

The message in Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients through Bad News and Other Legal Realities can be summed up by the first sentence on page 199. Author Marjorie Corman Aaron asserts, “A lawyer is a more strategic and effective counselor when fully informed as to the impact of language, meaning, emotion, and psychology on his client’s capacity and willingness to understand and accept bad news and legal realities.” Effectively communicating with clients is a challenge every lawyer must meet. When the attorney must deliver unpleasant news, that challenge is made even more difficult. Client Science offers a wealth of advice on how attorneys can sensitively but efficiently inform their clients of the facts and choices they face. It is an excellent handbook that is highly recommended for all law libraries. 

Client Science consists of nine chapters. Chapter 1, “Bad News and the Fully Informed Client,” is an overview of how attorneys can maintain the confidence of their clients even if they are delivering unfavorable news. It is best if the attorney prefaces the bad news with a measure of caring but doesn’t stall. The attorney should be direct and honest about the client’s choices and chance for success. Chapter 2, “Translating the Terrain,” explains how to translate legalese into terms the client can comprehend so that the client can be fully informed. In Chapter 3, “Meaning Truths,” Aaron discusses the tendency that clients have to pursue a case based on emotions and the sense of being wronged. Clients can falsely believe that the legal system is always fair. They may want to tenaciously fight when practical considerations suggest that is not the best course of action. The attorney must “reframe” the narrative of a case—not to alter the facts, but to explain how the opposition, or the jury, could interpret them differently. Chapter 4, “Emotional Effects and Affecting Emotions,” discusses different emotional states and reactions that occur in lawyer-client communications. Aaron says a positive emotional state helps the client to make sense of complex legal information and to make difficult decisions. Chapter 5, “Predictable and Potent Psychology,” explains the strong role that emotions play in decision-making. People usually have difficulty accepting facts that oppose their own perceptions and so attorneys must counter the tendency that clients have to do what “feels” right. Aaron observes that even “when people learn that someone else witnessed the same circumstances but perceived them differently, most retain unshaken faith in their own perceptions” (p.141). Attorneys must objectively describe the realities of the legal process, eliminating as much as possible their own psychological biases. In “Voices in Choice,” the sixth chapter, Aaron illustrates how vocal choices can impact the way a message is received. In conversation with a client, the attorney must enunciate clearly. He must take sufficiently long pauses, especially after relaying complicated or negative information, so that the client has time to absorb what he has heard. In short, the attorney must speak in slow, controlled, and confident tones. Chapter 7, “Choreography of Counsel,” is similar to Chapter 6 in that it discusses the physicality of communication. Body position and movement hugely affect the client’s perception of the attorney’s authority and abilities. Used appropriately, body language can indicate confidence and engagement; used improperly, it can signify detachment or defensiveness. Chapter 8, “A Gesture to Clarity,” shows how gestures can increase or detract from the speaker’s message. Attorneys should avoid random gesturing, but a prop such as an easel, notepad, or computer can be used to reinforce or facilitate a point, as research findings show that gesturing can enhance the listener’s understanding and retention. In the final chapter, “Channel Navigation Notes,” the author shows how the proper use of speech and body language creates a positive interpersonal connection.

Client Science is packed with practical advice. This illuminating guide would be extremely useful for any attorney or law student and any other professional who wishes to improve their communication skills. 

Donna M. Fisher (dfisher@senniger.com) is a law librarian at Senniger Powers LLP in St. Louis.

Posted By Donna Fisher at 9/27/2012 10:25:53 AM  0 Comments
TOPICS: book reviews
8/24/2012 2:41:53 PM

Highlights from July 2012 ALLUNY Newsletter

The July 2012 issue of the ALLUNY Newsletter, publication of the Association of Law Libraries of Upstate New York, has been published. I want to highlight two items. First, on page 2 Everett Wiggins has a concise but thought-provoking piece on next-generation legal databases and how their search engines affect how lawyers think through their work. Wiggins suggests these new products encourage lawyers to think less precisely and impedes them from gaining the subject expertise they need. The piece only took me a few minutes to read, but reminded me to caution my students that these databases cannot replace sound legal analysis.

Second, on page 4 Ruth Balkin suggests private law librarians assemble a list of ten non-legal research queries they have answered. Keeping such a list can help document the value librarians provide to lawyers. I am an academic librarian, but I am going to start keeping better track of some of the research questions I receive. Records like this can give me a more long-term view of my work with professors and students.

Posted By Benjamin Keele at 8/24/2012 2:41:53 PM  0 Comments
8/22/2012 9:23:41 AM

Book Review: Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please.

Joseph Kimble. Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please. Carolina Academic Press, 2012. 184 p. Hardcover, $23. ISBN 978-1-61163-191-3.

Scholars have been wrangling over “plain language” for decades, debating the merits of simpler style versus more traditional legal writing with its unique vocabulary and seeming redundancy. Joseph Kimble has long been an advocate of plain language, and he recently led the work of redrafting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence. In this slim volume, he cuts through the layers of debate to reach the simple conclusion that plain language – when understood holistically rather than as a mere formula or defined vocabulary – works.

Following a personal anecdote in Part One, the substance of Kimble’s new book begins in Part Two where he offers guidelines for plain language. In just a few pages, Kimble hammers the essentials of clean writing – general considerations of audience, design, organization, sentence structure, and word choice. These bare guidelines seem straightforward, but, as he states later, writing for understanding is an intellectual undertaking that demands time, effort, and attention.

To my mind, the heart of Kimble’s book lies in Part Three. Here, he responds to ten criticisms of plain language, attempting once and for all to put the kibosh on the naysayers. With a refreshingly honest tone, Kimble explains that plain language is not simplistic or formulaic but rather is fresh, sensible, and to the point. He emphasizes that the purpose of plain language is to reach the reader at his or her level of understanding. The reader’s understanding varies across situations and circumstances, and plain language adjusts accordingly. Kimble thus refutes the idea that plain language is strictly bound by rules. As he explains, “the guidelines for plain language are not narrowly circumscribed but instead range over planning, design, organization, sentences, words, and … testing.” (p. 22)

In some instances, the criticisms to which Kimble is responding are more complex than he indicates, and a reader new to the debate may wonder what the fuss is all about. For instance, in his response to the notion that the idea of plain language is too vague to be useful, Kimble refers to formulae for plain language but does not explain until much later in the book how they work (e.g., a ratio of syllables to words) or why these formulae have been hotly debated (e.g., the formula can result in ridiculous outcomes that lack meaning and clarity). Kimble’s brevity assumes a certain familiarity with the issues surrounding the plain language movement. Fortunately, he presents his arguments with such nimbleness that it is easy to grasp the larger point: plain language is a robust concept that focuses on usability rather than compliance.

In Part Four, Kimble provides a historical review of major contributions to the plain language literature along with events, projects, and organizations from several different countries. Kimble’s work culminates in Part Five with an evaluation of fifty different plain language success stories. These accounts prove his point that plain language not only promotes understanding on the part of the user but also demands expertise on the part of the writer – a demand that lawyers find reassuring. All in all, Kimble presents such compelling arguments and evidence that plain language is the only sensible choice for any legal document that I am left wondering why anyone would ever choose language that obfuscates, befuddles, or otherwise complicates the meaning therein.  

Susan David deMaine is a Research and Instruction Librarian at the Ruth Lilly Law Library, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. 

Posted By Susan DeMaine at 8/22/2012 9:23:41 AM  0 Comments