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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.

Get ’em Talking

Next time you’re setting up for an education program, reconsider the traditional classroom or theatre layout in favour of  a more interactive seating plan.

Even with larger audiences, there are lots of reasons to make it easier for participants to connect with each other: 1) one of the main reasons lawyers go to live programs is to network; setting the room up in a way that promotes interaction will give attendees a chance to get better acquainted; 2) communication is more two way – the audience is more likely to engage with the presenters in interactive layouts; and, 3) arranging tables to promote interaction sends a message that this program is something different – maybe even special.

The best seating plans for encouraging discussion are horseshoe/u-shaped, clusters (pods or rounds), and boardroom. Here is a quick description of each with pros and cons:


Pros – Good presenter visibility in open part of the U, allows for lots of eye contact with presenter and between participants, good for pair work, good for large-group discussions, fosters a sense of contribution

Cons – Requires a larger room, not ideal for larger group work (for example, fours or sixes), best suited for sessions where rank/power is not an issue (ie. no-one perceived to be “at head” of table)


Pros – Fairly compact, promotes easy group formation, encourages discussion within groups, creates a sense of equality which contributes to group problem solving, fosters a sense of contribution

Cons – communication between groups is not ideal, engagement with presenter can be tricky – especially if some participants have their backs to presenter or have to turn their chairs


Pros – good for learning by doing sessions, and group problem solving, encourages discussion within group

Cons – chairs at the short end of tables are often seen as leadership positions so consider reserving these for the presenter, not ideal for groups larger than about 12

In the end, there is no “one seating plan fits all” solution. If your goal is to get them talking, your arrangement will be well received so long as it supports the presenter, and encourages networking and participation among attendees.

Legal Ideas Worth Spreading

In keeping with last week’s theme about online disruption, I thought I would recycle another CLE blogger’s post about legal content on TED. TED offers countless lessons for professional development people. From the optimum length of a presentation to the value of hybrid events, TED has single-handedly transformed audience expectations about conferences and learning.

Having trouble making the connection with lawyers and legal content? Check out this great list of Top 10 Legal TED Talks from Tim Baran at www.legalproductivity.com. Front runners on my “must-see” list are Let’s Simplify Legal Jargon, Why Eyewitnesses Get it Wrong, and How I Beat a Patent Troll.

For more first-hand experiences about the scourge that is patent trolls, check out The Real Toll of Patent Trolls, in the December issue of Inc. magazine. Shocking stuff, and probably very interesting real world content for an IP for non-IP lawyers CLE.

In the interim, bring on the TED videos. Can you say DIY CPD? Hoo ya!

Note: Logo/image for this post and “Ideas Worth Spreading” tagline obviously owned by TED.