The most common refrain echoed by lawyers I know is that their biggest enemy is not an opposing counsel in a case or deal, or a rival law firm or company; rather, it is time (or more precisely, the lack thereof). This foe assumes mythic proportions as it relates to self improvement goals, as these are shunted aside when the next new matter, project or crisis comes along, as these understandably take precedence. Thus, even though they aspire to hone their business development and core competency skills (such as writing and presenting) or realize a need to focus on health and wellness, many lawyers often defer, as they simply cannot find the time.
Hopefully summer provides at least a brief respite from the rigors of the daily grind. Although immersing oneself in a program or training session in some of the areas noted above would be optimal, that four-letter word, T-I-M-E, may once again prohibit such efforts. As a backup plan, a summer reading list will be provided, as selecting a few books may better fit your schedule. I will take a more holistic approach that not only focuses on some key skills that are relevant to our subject of the “business of law,” but also a few that concern wellness, as a sound mind and body, in this author’s opinion, are essential for long-term success.
Building Relationships and Communications
Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time “ (Doubleday) has become a classic how-to book about networking. Ferrazzi is a former Deloitte Consulting partner and Harvard MBA who has spunk and embodies a can-do attitude. Unlike other books of the genre that are somewhat vague and laden with platitudes, “ Never Eat Alone “ offers specific advice in areas such as how to meet people at conferences, avoid gatekeepers and techniques to employ in following up. For those who are more comfortable with traditional and more passive approaches to building networks that will benefit your career, this book may not be for you. On second thought, as our ever-changing world is turning many of these rules on their heads, maybe those persons should be the first ones to read this.
“How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Less” by Nicholas Boothman (Workman Publishing Co.) is an ideal summertime book, as it has quick, hard-hitting chapters. This should not obscure that the book is loaded with excellent insights and tips. Boothman’s central thesis is that others form instant, indelible impressions of those they meet. He thus offers suggestions as to how one can be prepared for those encounters so that the impression that is made is positive and memorable. Boothman focuses on subjects such as body language, how to become a better listener, communication essentials and other skills that are the hallmarks of successful professionals.
It is estimated that people waste 40 days each year compensating for things they have forgotten. I would not be surprised if this number were higher for lawyers, especially as we age, as we are bombarded daily with facts, figures, cites and other data that are at the heart of our jobs. There are a plethora of memory books on the market, which offer sound techniques (such as mnemonics) and tricks that boost recall, such as “Your Memory, How it Works and How to Improve It “ by Kenneth Higbee (Da Capo Press) and “The Memory Book, The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, and at Play “ by Harry Lorayne (Ballantine Books).
If you want a more fascinating assessment of the subject, I highly recommend Joshua Forer’s “Moonwalking with Einstein, The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” (Penguin Press). Forer is a journalist who became mesmerized by the contestants he was covering in the U.S. Memory Championships. Forer ultimately decided to compete in that contest — the book reviews the history of our obsession with memory and how Forer prepared for the tournament. Although this is not a how-to book, readers will, nevertheless, learn a lot in the process and should find the story to be quite compelling.
Grammar and Writing
Many lawyers may understandably scoff at the need to sharpen grammar and writing skills, as these are essential tools in their craft. However, after hearing one of the most celebrated lawyers of our generation, who excelled at Ivy League schools, say “should have went” during a national telecast, and hearing similar missteps from leading lawyers, I believe that a quick refresher course can help anyone. As we are human, we are subtly influenced by the misuses that we hear and read, as they can creep into our subconscious. As we are judged by how we talk and write, this is an area that merits attention.
Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style “ (Macmillan Publishing) is a timeless classic. A more current tome, which has garnered national acclaim, is Patricia T. O’Conner’s “Woe Is I, The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English “ (Riverhead Books). O’Conner, a former New York Times Book Review editor, has an engaging and witty style that acknowledges that we have a living language that grows and adapts over time. She covers the essentials of grammar, but does so in an easy-to-read manner that makes an often stale subject lively and refreshing.
The nature of certain practice areas can strip away many of the talents of even the most gifted natural writers in the profession. Litigators who are trained to write in short, punchy sentences that are devoid of any flair and deal lawyers who plug stock paragraphs into agreements can certainly relate. This can also lead to bad habits, as generally accepted styles are often out of sync with better general writing standards. Bonnie Trenga’s “The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier “ (Writer’s Digest Books) is a snappy little tonic for those who suffer from those afflictions. Trenga discusses the seven writing weaknesses that editors everywhere fix (such as the “tantalizing tale of the passive voice”). It is a painless, quick read that will sharpen your skills.
A personal favorite, which is less than 100 pages and can be digested in brief chunks, is “Quick Tips for Balanced Living “ (Himalayan Institute Press). This little book is a gold mine, as it offers short chapters on a wide range of topics, including breathing, concentration, cleansing and even how to use a neti pot. Even though each chapter offers specific techniques, the real value of the book is that it may serve as an introduction to the uninitiated on a specific topic. If that subject strikes a chord, the reader can dive much deeper through additional study.
Diet, nutrition and general health books are proliferating at a record pace. This likely can be attributed to people taking a much more active role in this realm. There are too many books, and far too many personal needs and interests, to allow anyone to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation. If there is one book that may have broad appeal for lawyers, though, it may be “Ultra Prevention, The Six Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy For Life” by Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Mark Liponis (Atria Books).
Although the book is not as groundbreaking as it was when first released in 2003, Hyman and Liponis, who were co-medical directors at the time at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, offer still-relevant advice and reasoned perspective on the source of disease. The authors lay out a program that is designed to repair your body and keep it healthy through nutrition and other techniques. The success of this book has spawned other “Ultra” books by each author, but this one remains the standard bearer.
Some stress can be a good thing, as it spurs us into action and can trigger high levels of concentration. However, studies routinely document the significant damage that unchecked stress wreaks on our bodies and minds. There are a myriad of ways that each of us deals with stress, which include exercising, relaxing, prayer, spending time with family and loved ones and untold other techniques. Despite our use of these methods, we often find that stress overtakes us, which seems to be part of the human condition.
A book that offers an interesting perspective on stress management is “Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Bantam Dell). The author, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is one of the most celebrated mind/body practitioners, and this book went a long way to building that reputation. The book focuses on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness as means to not only reduce stress but to manage chronic pain and anxiety. Although I have not listened to the audio version of this book, others have raved about it because of the author’s calming voice.
The self-help section of any bookstore today is packed with books that promise great success. Whether it is through the power of suggestion, or adoption of the espoused principles in those books, many adherents vouch for the positive impact that they have had on their professional and personal lives. Personally, I believe that all of those books trace most of their teachings from the earlier writings of Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill, each of whom wrote classics that still resonate today.
Again, because of personal tastes and interests, it would be far too difficult to list the best books in this genre. Nevertheless, if there is one that serves as a compendium of the most popular self-help philosophies, it just may be Jack Canfield’s “The Success Principles, How To Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” (Collins). Canfield is the co-creator of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, which he draws upon in discussing a seemingly greatest hits of the self-help genre. The theories discussed by Canfield are timeless and it would seemingly be impossible for someone to not feel empowered and motivated after reading this book. •