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  • How to Get More Out of Your Time in the Office with Deep Work

    The hullabaloo of modern life: it’s inescapable.

    Devices beep, buzz, chirp and ring. Just this morning you may have overheard or said yourself: “My inbox is flooded,” “Have you checked your twitter feed?,” “Did you see what she posted on Facebook?,” “Oh those pictures you posted on Instagram are adorable!,” “Have you tried out that bot on Messenger?” And you may have texted, “Don’t forget to pick up some milk! 😘

    We’re all inundated.

    In a world that’s moving at breakneck speed it seems impossible to step off the digital train, but to do our best work it’s absolutely necessary. Alan Watts, British philosopher, writer and speaker, once said, “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

    So how do we do that and still get things done?

    Deep Work

    I found the answer in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book I picked up at a conference with its own fair share of electronic distractions.

    Newport contrasts “deep work” with shallow work:

    Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.

    Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much value in the world and are easy to replicate.

    If you’re like me, you probably recognize that a lot of what you do throughout the day tends to fall into this second category. Checking emails, completing tasks, following social media – the kind of thing that keeps you busy, but doesn’t really create value.

    Here are Newport’s rules to achieve deep work (and by the way I never said the answer I found was easy!):

    Rule #1 – Work Deeply

    To work deeply, it is helpful to come up with a ritual to put oneself in the right mindset. You may have a different approach than me.

    Ask yourself where you’ll work and for how long? This should be a location where you can “turn off” all the distractions. Preferably this is not the same place where you usually work because it’s too easy to fall into bad habits. Think of the place where you’ll want to do deep work as a sanctuary. Maybe an unused meeting room or a kitchen table (if you work from home)?

    How you’ll work once you start to work? You must establish rules for your ritual, such as a ban on Internet use and metrics of accomplishment (e.g., words per 30 minute interval, 2 problems solved in one hour, etc.)

    How you’ll support your work? This may be as simple as ensuring you have a cup of coffee before you begin, to light exercise or walking à la Steve Jobs to clear the mind.

    Rule #2 – Embrace Boredom

    What? This rule sounds crazy you might say. Why on Earth would I want to embrace boredom? Because many creative and wonderful ideas occur to the reflective mind that is not distracted by entertaining diversions. The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained. To train this skill, you must learn to become comfortable with boredom, through meditation or memorization skills, for example.

    Rule #3 – Quit Social Media

    Quitting social media is a tall order you say? Newport cites the Internet sabbatical of digital media consultant Baratunde Thurston who said (after shunning social media and email for 25 days), “I was less stressed about not knowing new things; I felt that I still existed despite not having shared documentary evidence of said existence on the Internet.”

    Newport is not a hard liner on this point. Rather, he advocates a middle ground approach: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a social network tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts (such as irrational distraction).

    Rule #4 – Drain the Shallows

    Eliminate as much shallow work as possible. Newport points to an experiment by Basecamp, a software company, in reducing its work week to 4 work days. The idea was not to force employees to work 40 hours in 4 days rather than 5. Rather, the idea was that by reducing the work hours, it would force employees to focus on the important stuff during the time they did have to work instead of waste time on water cooler talk, or checking Facebook, or unproductive meetings. The experiment was a success and a win-win: employees get more free time and the company gets higher quality work from workers during the time they are in the office.

    How would you implement these rules in your practice?

  • The Benefits of GLSA Membership

    How does GLSA membership make me more employable?

    I’m a mid-50’s lawyer with 27 years of experience.  By reason of a serious of unfortunate events and a downturn in the economy, I was forced to close-down my solo practice and get a job.  I thought, who is going to hire “my old self”?  As I evaluated my employ-ability, I became anxious about my job prospects especially comparing myself to all of the younger, hungry, tech-savvy lawyers who did not have the same salary requirements that I had.  As I got involved in the interview process, many of the prospective employers asked if I had a “book of business”.

    Eureka, I do.  As a longtime member of GLSA I had developed a relationship with over 15 group legal plans that referred me business.  I found these prospective employers were very interested in my ability to bring this business into their firms.   This buoyed my confidence and resulted in two job offers.  I required a non-compete in my employment agreement wherein I retained these referral sources should I change jobs.

    Being a GLSA member enhanced my relationship with the legal plans which ultimately resulted in my employment on terms that I probably would not have been able to otherwise negotiate.

    Thank you GLSA!

  • What is a Chatbot?

    If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, reading blogs or the occasional legal industry related tweets on twitter, you’ve heard the deafening cries and dizzying excitement about artificial intelligence, machine learning and chatbots.

    But, what are chatbots?

    Definition

    chat·bot
    /ˈCHatbät/
    noun
    a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

    Origin

    You see, it all started with Alan Turing, the original computer scientist on which the movie The Imitation Game was based. Turing developed his test in 1950 for intelligence in a computer.

    The idea is if a human is unable to distinguish machine from another human being through engaging it in a dialog of questions and and replies, then the computer could be deemed to be “intelligent.” Turing predicted by the year 2000, a computer would pass the test on five-minute keyboard conversations 30% of the time.

    That all changed 6 years ago when in 2011, at the Techniche festival in Guwahati, India, an application called Cleverbot took part in a Turing-type test and was perceived to be human by 59.3% of its testers (compared with a score of 63.3% human for the average human participant).

    You can play around with Cleverbot here.

    Popularity

    There are a few reasons why chatbots are now all the rage.

    First, technology to create a chatbot has become simple enough and cheap enough that they’re not just for hard core computer coders anymore. In fact, here’s a link to a video of a 7 year old boy creating a conversational chatbot.

    Second, tech industry giants, such as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others have jumped into the game, bringing their massive audiences of users with them. In April 2016, Facebook launched its platform to make chatbots available to its 1 billion users on Messenger. By November, 34,000 chatbots had sprung into existence on Facebook Messenger.

    Third, people live on their smartphones and communicate primarily by messaging. Messaging apps have now surpassed social networks in terms of monthly actives user numbers. The numbers of users (as of January 2017) on messaging platform are mind-boggling:

    • Facebook Messenger: 1 billion people
    • WhatsApp: 1 billion people
    • WeChat: 846 million people
    • Skype: 300 million people
    • Snapchat: 300 million people
    • Viber: 249 million people

    (Source: Statista)

    Opportunity

    Imagine the possibilities. A chatbot can engage a user in a conversation about most any topic. How about a chatbot that helps tenants understand their rights? Or how about a chatbot that can help you fill out a divorce petition by answering a few simple questions? Maybe you can use a chatbot to interview your clients for basic information so you don’t have to?

    I encourage you to create a chatbot yourself and play around with it. A great (and free) chatbot creation tool is Chatfuel, a simple as pie platform for creating Facebook Messenger bots.

    Here are some legal chatbots that are already challenging what we think possible:

    DoNotPay – Perhaps the most prolific robot lawyer, created by Stanford freshman Joshua Browder, has taken on 250,000 traffic ticket cases—winning 160,000 of them and saving drivers $4 million in fines since 2014. The service is free and also assists the homeless with claims to public housing.

    LawBot – “The world’s most advanced legal chatbot” launched by Cambridge University Law students Ludwig Bull, Rebecca Agliolo, Nadia Abdul, and Jozo Maruscak, LawBot asks users questions in order to figure out whether a crime was committed. This free service can currently address 26 different offences and just expanded into divorce.

    Robot Lawyer Lisa –  Founded by The Naked Lawyer author and UK lawyer Chrissie Lightfoot, Lisa is a free app aimed at helping entrepreneurs draw up non-disclosure agreements.

    LawDroid – Created by California lawyer Tom Martin, LawDroid is a chatbot, built on Facebook Messenger, can help entrepreneurs incorporate their business in for free, no lawyer required.

    Chatbots can be simple (rules based AI) or more complex (natural language processing and machine learning) and they’re only getting smarter!  

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