From Poor Judge to Ripples of Confidence to Empty Bucket

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Yes, I am a poor judge of my own writing. Laugh, of course, but please contain the eye roll until we examine the evidence.

So, let’s examine the evidence.

Exhibit A: Finding Hybrids in the Legal Industry

Published on January 2, 2015. The day after a holiday.

For most of the third quarter last year, I found myself thinking about the echo chamber of law, and legal technology. Everyone was (and still is) talking about change and automation and the death of the billable hour (coming soon), and the legal profession (later). I felt like I was back in my sophomore journalism class where everyone was bemoaning the death of the newspaper. More than 10 years later, people are still bemoaning the death of the newspaper, yet I see newsprint at the corner on my way to the “L,” at the Metra station and scattered around desks at the office.

It struck me that people are talking past each other, and pointing to the same examples of “change agents,” that handful of people who get the notoriety for speaking more than doing. Sort of like they’re setting themselves up for another career by proclaiming the doom of their current profession. The phrase for that is fear mongering, but to me, there was something more. While most of the industry, from law school up to BigLaw, is running around hysterical, I went looking for the cooler heads. Somewhere in the legal profession, there are practicing lawyers working to improve something instead of agreeing with the hysteria. Somewhere, there must be people addressing change in the profession from the inside out.

I found them: lawyer-entrepreneur hybrids.

Given past history that my observations are often ahead of the curve (social media being used in eDiscovery, and big data for the solo and small law firm, all the rage now, spring to mind), I expected the post to land softly, and mostly be ignored. It doesn’t trumpet the demise of the profession, it doesn’t call for change. It simply demonstrates lawyers leveraging technology to their benefit, and to the benefit of others.

Was that an eye roll? OK. That is deserved. PinHawk picked it up, and featured it in its newsletter the following week. Today’s General Counsel had it on its home page for roughly a week. Social media shares, emails came in praising the post, asking to repost on whatever blog or publication they ran. Other startups reached out, wanting to talk about what they’re doing, too.

I confess I remain stumped as to its popularity, other than it highlights doers, examples of law students, and lawyers at big and small firms, finding or creating solutions. That last part of the Home Depot commercial, “More Doing,” runs through my head. I want to find the doers, and they often operate beneath the chatter, just outside the limelight.

Like me.

Exhibit 2: In-Depth: Social Media

This was an experiment in longer form, instructional-type content. The thinking behind In Depth pieces is to provide (wait for it) in depth knowledge on a particular subject. The low hanging fruit included cloud computing, and social media. I didn’t mind the cloud computing one so much; it was easy and quick for me to write. Social media, though, man. The more I try (and continually fail) to separate myself from the “social media” guru/expert/[insert latest ridiculous adjective] label, the deeper it sinks its prongs. I created a Twitter account out of curiosity after overhearing some classmates in my IP Digital class talking about this site that only lets you post in 140 characters or less. That registered as a challenge to me. What can be said distilled into 140 characters? Super Flash Fiction.

My Twitter presence took off because I was laid off, and had ample time on my hands. I found it a useful vehicle of communication, information sharing and a way to gain knowledge. I made a point to follow people who had different opinions than myself, interests not my own, and inadvertently found my niche in legal technology. It played a key role in landing me my first post-lay off full time job. But then I became “that” person, the guru/expert/[insert latest ridiculous adjective]. I was pigeon-holed. Trapped. I have more to offer than social media prowess, and it was clear my employer at the time didn’t see me as more than a social media monkey. For awhile, it was hard to see myself as anything else, and I hated it.

I wanted out.

The out came from an unexpected source, but it saw my social media prowess as one of many tools, not the only tool. That made a difference, and helped change my perception of myself and social media use. Still, the In Depth piece was a struggle. The simplicity of social media is mind-numbingly obvious, to me, and when I sat down to write the peice, the copy came out punchy, and somewhat humorous, like I was poking fun at myself for doing what I despise: pointing out the obvious.

Writing it turned out to be good prep work for the MBA digital and social media marketing class I taught last fall, and am teaching the online version in a couple of weeks. I have to pause at what I think is obvious, and think of my mother. She will Facebook or text or call me for tech trouble-shooting help, after she has exhausted other options. Her brain works differently, and I have learned that sometimes stating the obvious is the answer. Sometimes we miss the obvious because it is obvious, and need someone else to point it out. I thought of that while writing the In Depth Social Media piece, thinking in terms of basics, regardless of how ridiculous it seemed to point out the obvious. Still, I didn’t think much would come of the post. There are so many on setting up and managing social media, mine is a drop in the bucket now.

Drop in a bucket produces ripples. Ripples of confidence that remind me what sits at the root of my being: storytelling. Most of the time, that relates to helping others craft their stories, helping them flesh out the finer details, or honing in on a specific aspect because it is the heart of the story. I confess I take pride in doing that, and love it when a post resonates. I may have done a small thing in storytelling, but it has an impact. Sometimes, like with Docketfish, I talk to the doers and write the story for them. I stop short of calling myself a perfectionist (though one day someone will write a post explaining the ways in which I am, indeed, a perfectionist), preferring to say I’m particular. Writing the stories of others in the legal profession makes me nervous. I’m not a lawyer, so the day-to-day aspects of law are foreign to me and I don’t consider myself the best to articulate how a particular application makes a difference. My curiosity gets the best of me, however, and it doesn’t take long before the journalist in me takes over and the piece writes itself.

A few more drops in the bucket, and the ripples spread.

Which brings me to

Exhibit 3: Non-Work Related Writing

I took a number of nonfiction writing classes last year that produced personal essays, some of which you can read. At the time, I considered it flexing a different set of writing muscles, forcing the focus on me rather than industry. I wonder if I may have gotten ahead of myself, weaving some of those essays into a piece resembling a memoir that was submitted to StoryStudio’s Memoir in a Year class. I had no expectations, and, honestly, submitted for the simple reason of doing.

Now I find myself in a curious situation. Whereas my professional writing bucket fills itself, my personal writing bucket is empty. There aren’t ripples, only a “thud.” The “thud” is the piece resembling a memoir. The sound still reverberates, loudly, as if contained within the bucket. It’s deafening (which I initially wrote as defeating), and I find myself at a standstill. With what do I fill the bucket? Or, perhaps more important, do I fill the bucket?

Seeing as the Memoir in a Year class lasts until June, and I must submit a section to be workshopped in May, the answer is “yes” to fill the bucket. That leaves: fill it with what?

The answer, I will wager, lies in doing. The doing is personal, introspective. That keen sense of observation, so well developed for industry, now needs to turn on itself. The auto-response is resistance. I wonder, though, if my search for a challenge this year has presented itself. If this, turning my keen sense of observation inward to produce a tangible piece of, for lack of a better word, self preservation and survival, is the challenge I am to tackle now.

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