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Say Yes to Summer Ambition

Many CPD providers hit the breaks between July and September as lawyers and CPD decision makers leave town. But writing off the summer as “dead time” can be a costly mistake. Last spring, one of my clients asked me to put a strategy in place for their team to keep moving over the long lazy days of July and August. Yesterday they told me it was their most productive summer ever.

Here are five strategies any provider can employ:

1. Reach out to faculty and decision makers before things go into lockdown mode. Not everyone is away at the same time. Organize your calendar for when key people will be around.

2. Two months isn’t long. Set weekly mini milestones – these can be financial or registration targets, marketing or other campaign related goals, or program preparation. Having regular targets will help ensure forward progress.

3. Identify one large project to complete over the summer – redo your website, revise teaching notes, create a loyalty campaign, update your marketing list.

4. Analyze your feedback and program evaluations from last year to figure out how you can improve this year. If additional surveying is required, reach out to members or program attendees to ask for their opinion.

5. Lastly, take advantage of the down time to socialize with your colleagues. Go out to lunch and reconnect before the fall rush hits. You’ll enjoy working together more and you’ll probably get more done.

Don’t drink the industry Kool-Aid that the CPD calendar ends in June. With a little bit of effort, July and August can become critical planning months to ensure you hit the ground running come September.

Why Staggering Paper Deadlines Works

One of my clients produces a remarkable collection of papers as part of an annual CPD program. Although the end result is so impressive that it in some ways probably looks easy, there is a staggering amount of work that goes into the materials by the program chairs and authors, each of whom contribute at least two papers.

Last year, the program chairs had the inspired idea to stagger paper deadlines so that authors would have two deadlines, six weeks apart, instead of the previous one deadline for both papers. On an administrative level, the staggered deadlines make materials compilation much more manageable so have worked beautifully. However, I didn’t appreciate the full genius behind the change until I read an article last week in Harvard Business Review entitled “Here’s What Really Happens When You Extend a Deadline”.

According to author Heidi Grant Halvorson, three problematic dynamics are at play in the human unconscious that make managing deadlines difficult for most people:

1. The “Goal Looms Larger Effect” meaning the closer you get to the deadline, the more it dominates your thinking, and the more intensely you pursue it.

2. Procrastinators work because there is pressure. Without consistent pressure, they don’t work.

3. We underestimate how long it will take us to do pretty much anything aka “the planning fallacy”.

In the case of a program where faculty have multiple written contributions, staggering deadlines can help to combat these problems by keeping motivation high, keeping the pressure on procrastinators, and taking action to avoid people overestimating their own time management abilities. The author points to a study in which students who had three papers due by the end of the term were given the option of setting a single deadline or staggered deadlines. Only a small minority chose to submit all three papers on one day. Instead most students spaced their papers out evenly, and interestingly, those students earned higher marks.

So next time you’re planning a program where faculty have multiple contributions, try staggering deadlines. You may just save them and you a lot of frustration.

End of Summer Reading List

Looking for a good book to occupy what’s left of your summer? The ABA has just published a terrific list of the 24 greatest law novels – ever. To select the winners, they assembled a group of lawyers and academics to “find the best portrayals of lawyers and the law”. From Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to Grisham’s The Firm, there’s something for every reader.

Who was number one? I’ll leave that to you to find out. But I will tell you there’s a tie in the mix so the list is actually 26 novels (not 25). So, whether you’re spending your time in a Muskoka chair or on an airplane, grab a book. There’s still time to reflect on what you love most and least about the profession.


What Advocacy Teachers Can Learn from Monsters, Inc.

Two of my children are in elementary school so the release of Monsters University this summer was cause for some excitement in my house. The movie, released by Disney, is a prequel to Monsters, Inc. which came out about 10 years ago. Both stories feature a fictional city called Monstropolis, the power for which is generated by monsters scaring children (think monster in my closet, monster under my bed, etc.).

While both movies are entertaining, the original is my favourite because of the teaching point it offers advocacy instructors. In the first few minutes, Henry J. Waternoose III, the CEO of Monsters, Inc. uses a classic critique model to teach prospective “scarers” how to improve their technique.

First, he headlines his critique with an effective “hold it…can anyone tell me what went wrong?”. Then he replays for other students what the student in question did, namely, left the door open. Then he explains why leaving the door open was a bad idea, and then he asks other students to offer possible prescriptions. He ends by telling them, much the same way as good advocacy instructors do, that the key to effectively scaring kids is practice, practice, practice.

Long before the National Institute of Trial Advocacy or any Canadian law schools and CPD providers were using the learning-by-doing teaching model, Jim McElhaney was using it to teach law students at Case Western. It’s inspiring to see his legacy continue on the silver screen.

Note: Monsters trademarks and artwork copyright Disney- Pixar.

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