The most common word in 5 common law documents is exactly what you think

I miss spreadsheets. There was always something so nerdily fun about trying to work out why an Excel formula wasn’t giving the right result. I can even remember the code you typed in to older versions of Excel to get access to a cool flight simulator game. It was Excel 97 and the code was to press F5, then type X97:L97 and hit Enter. Then, you hit the tab key, then held Control and Shift, and clicked on the Chart Wizard button. You then got to fly a little plane around on company time. I should add, this was before Facebook and high speed internet and recaps of The Walking Dead minutes after it aired and me having friends. Ah, 2004, I miss you. Except for the no friends part.

Now, like all lawyers, I live in a world of words, and Word, and .doc, and .docx, and PDF and so on. Today, I reviewed several 150 page loan agreements because I get paid to do so (or am meant to get paid – PAY YOUR BILLS CLIENTS) and make very complex legal arguments on drafting. These include such gems as:

‘what you have drafted is not market standard and our client will not accept it’

and

‘you need to add the words “acting reasonably” to any clause that gives your client the right to take action against our client in this document’.

I know, law is so sexy. Who needs friends when I can use words like ‘henceforth’ and mean it.

Like my own speech patterns, where I seem to say ‘I don’t disagree’ and ‘greatly appreciated’ way too much, legal documents tend to have a number of phrases or words that crop up again and again, regardless of the type of document or transaction.

That got me wondering – what are the most commonly used words in some of the more widely used legal documents?  Hey, I’m bored, let me find out.

I have to set some ground rules for this experiment.

Firstly, I need to get a life after this. Seriously, what am I doing?

Secondly, particles like ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘an’ ‘its’ and so on are excluded from the count because, while useful, they are boring and probably expected to come up a lot of times. I also excluded ‘document’, ‘agreement’ and ‘deed’, as all these documents repeatedly say things like ‘this document’ or ‘this agreement’, so these words skew the results.

Thirdly, I will go with five documents I regularly see as part of my practice. There is no science to the selection of these documents, I just have them handy. They are:

  1. the Australasian Loan Market Association Syndicated Loan Agreement
  2. the New South Wales contract of sale of land, with what I consider to be some pretty standard special conditions
  3. A share purchase agreement for shares in an unlisted company
  4. A privacy policy for a major international company
  5. In the spirit of multinational relations, a US law governed aircraft leasing agreement. This is the longest, by the way. 459 pages of closely spaced, 10 size font, text with no formatting and little in the way of numbering or headings. Ah, America. Clear legal drafting must fall within the same category as the metric system for you guys – you have heard of it, but refuse to acknowledge it.

And the results are…

Want to guess?

Still reading this?!?! Thanks so much, I’m touched.

The top 3 words used in these sample documents are:

NUMBER THREE

In third place, with a total use across all 5 documents of 770 times is: other.

Yes, lawyers like to create options, alternatives and confusion. It’s how we justify charging so much per hour. So rather than saying ‘let’s go to the beach’, we will say ‘let’s go to the beach other than on a day that is a weekday other than when it is a holiday period other than when guests are staying with you for said holiday period. Other.’

SECOND PLACE

In second place (‘Second comes right after first’ – Buzz Aldren), with a total use across all 5 documents of 891 times is: under.

This one threw me for a bit, but then I took a look at the documents and they do say things like ‘under this clause’ quite a lot. It is wunderful.

FIRST PLACE

And our winner (seriously, you’re still reading?!), coming in with a massive total of 1,024 uses across the above 5 documents is: party

Everyone is a winner with party!!!!

Not that anyone ever invites me to their party *sniff*

FUN EXTRA BONUS

Just for fun, I ran the same test on just the US law document, to see whether there was a different outcome from that set out above. And the result? You’re not going to be surprised – the US loves their legal jargon:

In third place: indemnitee

Second place: trust

Most used word in my example US law document: participant

That third place is pure American. It did not come up once in any of the four Australian documents.

And, bizarrely, the words ‘erect’, ‘solicitation’ and ‘pubic’ (which I think is a typo, but given the source of this document, cannot be 100% sure), all arise once in the document. Those naughty Americans.

Happy Easter everyone. Thanks for all your support and peace, love and respect to you all.

Advertisements

Stop comparing yourself to others. Set your own goals.

My recent post on performance reviews got me thinking about the competitive nature of lawyers, and the way in which they invariably compare themselves to their peers. It is a sad fact that lawyers are almost compelled by their profession, and the way in which it assesses performance, to compare themselves to others, and this brings with it an incredible amount of stress and anxiety for almost all lawyers, regardless of their speciality, position or the firm they work for.

To take a simple example, the classic billable hour. I remember all too vividly the feeling of not meeting my billable hour target despite long hours and weekend work, while others in my team appeared to met and exceeded their target with ease. It made me feel insecure, inadequate and worried for my job.

The irony, of course, is that there were times when I did exceed target, and those that were exceeding target fell behind. Suddenly, roles and perceived ranking were adjusted. The next week, adjustments happened again. And it keeps on going in its insidious and destructive way, like some sort of workplace anxiety tornado.

The billable hour is the standard measure for workplace performance, and I know that many lawyers cannot help but sneak a peak at their peers’ hourly figures to see how they compare. Quality of legal service, skill in negotiation, client business development; none of these things matter when we can simply use billable hours to rank ourselves with other lawyers in our team or firm.

What exacerbates this behaviour, in my view, is the personality of those who gravitate towards the law. They are all high achievers, used to long hours alone studying and working, relying on their own skills and ability to achieve. Some lawyers I’ve worked with in the past also admit to fear of failure as the biggest driver for them at school and university, and that fear led to a singular focus on achieving the highest possible results in tests and assessments.

Getting into law at university is not easy (although perhaps not as hard as it once was, although that’s another topic for a later day). Once you enter law school you are competing against some of the very best and brightest, who have also got into law school because they are focussed and, usually, competitive (whether with others, or with themselves). And that continues through into the law firm environment. All lawyers are highly intelligent, and many have very similar personality traits.

The result is that we end up comparing ourselves to people who are almost a mirror image of, well, ourselves. I’m not saying that lawyers are all the same. Of course, we are all beautiful butterflies who have our own strengths and weaknesses, our own personal lives, our own history and our own future. But, I am sure you will agree, we are also all highly driven and inherently anxious about how we rank against our peers, because that’s what a law firm environment does to people like us.

I have been there. The fear and anxiety has not left me just because I work for myself and have no-one to compare myself against any more, whether by way of billable hours or otherwise.

And I cannot offer any solutions or suggestions to others who feel this way.

What I can say, and what I hope anyone reading this who feels this way, is that you are amazing. You are talented, driven, kind, intelligent and friendly. You would not have got into a law firm if you didn’t have these qualities. I know you can’t really judge yourself on your positive qualities as easily as you can your supposed negative qualities, but please try it once in a while. Remind yourself that you are comparing yourself to the best and the brightest, and to people who are all too close to the type of person you are. And guess what? You’re equal to them, but also unique and incomparable. It is your own individuality that is the true measure of your personal success and your success as a lawyer.

I know it sounds trite, but make your own internal performance goal one that focusses on your many positive qualities. And remind your colleagues of their positive qualities too – trust me, they are just as anxious, concerned and stressed as you and would love encouragement. Help them, help yourself, and continue being amazing.

Wow, I’m a really bad motivational writer. And hey look, I just did what I told you not to do. Told you it never really leaves you, but I’ll try and focus on my positive qualities instead. I’m kind to puppies, I guess.

From the mouths / keyboards of F2F charity workers

I have been a little quiet on my 2016 mission of doing something about face-to-face charity workers on the streets of Sydney, and apologise for that. However, I have not been (all that) idle in the last few weeks, as I have been speaking and emailing a couple of people who actually do this work. Yes, I have been corresponding with the enemy.

And you know what? They were all very lovely people who really, really didn’t like doing this work either.

Their insights were very interesting, and to me are a great summary of all that is wrong with the current state of regulation of the chugging market in New South Wales.

There is really one big company that employs chuggers on behalf of charities. And its name is…

 

Cobra Group. I kid you not. Look, they even have a website where they try and justify their existence.

As soon as I learned the company hiring and contacting chuggers was the same name as the big bad criminal organisation in GI Joe, the world of charity collection made a little more sense to me.

Cobra enters into service agreements with various charities to run the face-to-face and door-to-door charity collection operations on behalf of these charities. It is Cobra that does all the selection and hiring of chuggers, contracts with them, pays them, and takes a cut of the proceeds raised on the street by their workers before passing the balance back to the relevant charity.

I haven’t found any hard evidence to support this, but the people I interviewed seemed to think the money raised by the people on the street was split as follows: 20% to the chugger, 50% to Cobra for administration costs other than salaries / commissions paid to the chugger (that’s the previous 20%), and the remaining 30% to the charity.

One kind person even emailed me the job advertisement that Cobra uses when looking for new people to work as face-to-face charity workers. It is about what you would expect:

Thanks for showing an interest in the advertised position. After reading your application I’m delighted to be able to offer you an interview for this position on Monday 3rd March at 9am PLEASE DON’T BE LATE as you may miss your interview place. we will go over all aspects of the position and will answer any questions you may have. Address: [withheld]. Opportunity: Urgent position to fill, we are looking for you to start immediately; we will provide all training, no experience necessary. Big launch on a public awareness campaign for Amnesty International concerning everyone in Australia! I look forward to seeing you. Any problems or questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

What it is like to work as a chugger

 

I will let the people I interviewed tell their story. Each has agreed to allow me to post their comments on condition of remaining anonymous. I have censored the more descriptive language as well, but I am sure you will be able to fill in the blanks.

 

Person 1: Payment

I can’t remember exactly but I was on around $700 a week. I only got commission for a sign up after I had signed up 7 people in a week. Then I got $50 commission a sign up. We had to sign people up to a $30 a month deal. The place I worked for had multiple charities they raised for. Lots of backpackers / travellers were doing it.

The managers get you to learn a script they’ve written and get you to nod, smile and agree lots with the person you’re trying to get sign up. Most of the managers seemed to be full of themselves like they had been reading “The Secret”. “If you believe you can do it, you can do it” type weirdos. Some people were making lots of money, especially the hot girls. Most were not but they get a constant flow of travellers to replace them so it’s ok.

The spots they stand in have all been organised with the local councils, and they have to book these spots for the days they want to work there. To be honest, they annoy the **** out of me too, and I really hated myself when I was doing it but I don’t think they should be banned, these people are just trying to make a living and helping a charity. People really need to chill out a bit, someone asked you for a minute of your time every now and then and you act like you were just assaulted.

 

Person 2: Life on the street

A lot of these chuggers are roped into the job via fancy marketing job ads that promise lots of travel opportunities, and lots of money. You end up getting to travel to Blacktown and Mount Druitt, and have to attempt to coerce some of the lowest income earners in Sydney to hand over their money.

Its generally commission based, one sign up is approx. $100 for the chugger. The aim is 2 sign ups per day. Only the best of the best will ever hit 2, and these are the ones who have sold their souls for money.

There is no regulation. These “companies” constantly change their names, but can sometimes be associated with “The Cobra Group” – googling that name will get you lots of hits. When you join, you don’t work for the company, you work for yourself as a contractor. They force you to create an ABN and sign lots of paperwork, basically freeing them of any liability and offering you zero protection – “BUT THINK OF THE MONEY YOU COULD MAKE!”

I did it for 3 days when I was 18 and fresh out of high school. It didn’t sit well with me that I was approaching people and making them feel uncomfortable and cornered simply to make quick buck. Also it was absolutely draining having to put on a smile all day long whilst people actively avoided me – like being rejected a thousand times.

If anyone reading this is job searching, you should be smart enough to smell these places from a mile away. Their job ads ALL HAVE CAPITAL LETTERS!!!! Interviews are very unprofessional, their offices are usually temporary / rented out, and they will often gloss right over you and feed you a spiel before asking you anything about yourself. You are often taken on a field adventure to observe other chugger superstars use their tactics on the public. Your “mentor” for the day might also walk into a jewellery or pawn store to look at expensive things, as if they have SO MUCH MONEY from this wonderful job to flaunt and spend on anything they like. If you ever find yourself in a place like this, save yourself the time and just leave.

 

Person 3: The interview process

The “interview” was in a group of around 10, there were backpacker-looking people. They asked questions like “why do you want to work for Amnesty”, general interview questions. I was desperate for a job at the time, so I said how I was part of the Amnesty group during high school, and did some projects relating to Dafur or something.

The money raising was for child soldiers… somewhere. Forgot which country, sorry.

They obviously knocked people back- the ones who weren’t that convincing, or didn’t speak English that well, or seemed tardy. There were some people who came to the interview looking quite casual (wearing thongs or whatever), and they were knocked back too. It was easy to guess which people were knocked back.

The second day I came in (training day) was when they went through their whole spiel of “you can go on interstate trips! We go on team-building camping exercises and tell stories around a campfire!”. The person leading it was someone who had started from the bottom and worked his way up to the top (of course…). We learnt about how to sell things (like asking lots of questions with a “yes” answer, so when it came to the final “would you like to donate” question, they would also say “yes”), and the whole commission system.

 

Thank you to everyone that agreed to let me ask them questions on this. It was a very interesting experience for me, and hopefully a helpful and insightful one for you, the reader.

IMG_0348

Video Games and the Law – No. 3

Ladies and gentlemen, I have found law gaming nirvana. And it comes in the form of a digital version of the late, great Jerry Orbach.

landOrder1

I spent a few hours playing ‘Law and Order: Dead on the Money’, the first in a series of video game adaptations of the incredibly diverse and longlasting Law and Order television show.

Oh, did I mention it also has the voice (and disturbingly weirdly proportioned body) of Elisabeth Röhm, who as you will all know played Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn on the original Law and Order show until she… um… I can’t remember. Did she go into the witness protection program, or something? Anyway.

landOrder0

This game just oozes 2002 video gaming quality, which means lots of low resolution video, limited voice recordings so Mr Orbach seems to say the same things again and again, and multiple CDs (apparently – I played an online digital version and so should you).

Everyone will remember the opening monologue to each episode of Law and Order:

In the Criminal Justice System the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

And that is pretty much how the game is structured. You start off playing the sidekick to the absolutely amazing Jerry Orbach, and are investigating the murder of a stockbroker. Then, once you have a suspect, you switch over to Ms Röhm to live out your fantasy of being an ADA for the city of New York.

To make things more interesting, your initial investigation is subject to an overall time limit. So regardless of what you’re doing, if that time limit expires and you haven’t arrested someone, you’re out of luck. Or if you have arrested someone but spent too little time gathering up all the required evidence, you won’t be able to prosecute them successfully. I know, STRESSFUL.

The game itself is pretty much your standard adventure-style game in appearance, where you click at random things on the screen to interact with them (say, clicking on evidence to collect it), or selecting from various dialogue options when talking to other characters (say, interviewing a suspect). The style of game is actually pretty simple and straightforward, and if you’re at all familiar with the show you’ll be pretty used to the narrative arc the storyline takes.

landOrder3

I played it with a walkthrough as I am a dirty cheat, but I challenge anyone who is not a US lawyer to beat the courtroom scenes without one. I’ve said before that I am not a litigator and hate court work down to the very deepest part of my being, and this game makes you learn about US court process and rules in order to beat the court scenes. It is kinda crap, or at least less exciting than hanging out with digital Jerry Orbach.

You can still buy the actual original copy for investment purposes, and with the improving Australian dollar I strongly advise you to do so. Available here, thank me later.

Rating? 5/5, because Jerry Orbach.

 

PS – all photos credited to http://www.metzomagic.com/showArticle.php?index=465, with thanks.

PS – check out the system requirements. Does anyone under 30 even remember the Pentium CPU?

Pentium II (or compatible) 400 MHz, 96 MB RAM, DirectX-compatible 8 MB Video Card, 12x CD-ROM Drive, 700 MB of Hard Drive Space, DirectX 8.1 or later (on CD).

Need Help Writing your Performance Review?

Performance Review

There are many great things about working for yourself, such as being able to control your day and the way in which you want to work. Of course, there are also downsides as well, such as occasionally feeling isolated and not having anyone else to blame if there is no skim milk in the refrigerator. Curse you, full fat milk!

There are two times a year, however, when I am particularly glad I work for myself, and that is at the time my friends and colleagues are preparing their yearly or half-yearly performance reviews.

Almost every workplace will do this in some form or another, whether it’s by way of an informal chat – for example:

Manager: Everything going OK?

You: Yes. I work so hard, though. Can I please have a raise?

Manager: *looks slightly pained* Well, times are tough you know. How about I keep your salary at the same level, but you work even harder and do the jobs of two other people who have just quit? That would be a good goal for the year ahead right?

You: ….

Manager: Great, I’ll let HR know.

or a formal, long, annoying detailed and always slightly confusing written performance review based on a template devised by the Human Resources team, or pulled off the internet.

At the last few places I worked, it was a combination of both of these. I was asked to prepare a formal written report that was submitted to my supervising partner, and I could also nominate other people I worked with to provide feedback. We then had (or were meant to have) a formal sit-down face to face meeting. That part never really happened.

I’ve also had to GIVE performance reviews to people, because someone at sometime mistakenly took me for being a boss who had underlings. Little did they know that it was the team around me that made me look good, and without them I was nothing.

So where am I going with all of this?

Performance reviews are terrible, but unavoidable. The worst part is starting them, and if you are anything like me you leave it until 8pm on the day before it is due. I feel for anyone going through this process, and so wanted to post three tips I have for doing your performance reviews.

I am not saying my tips are by any means perfect or universal to every lawyer or non-lawyer. If you like them, great! Please use them. If you don’t like them, well, at least you know what NOT to write. Right? Write. Right.

TIP 1 – GET CLIENT FEEDBACK THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

The best performance review I ever did was my last one at my former firm, where I simply put ‘See Attached’ in each of the categories I was meant to complete. I then attached client feedback forms I had gathered throughout the year. It didn’t really matter what the performance review category was, I just referred to the client feedback and hoped for the best. I was past caring at this stage, to be honest, and saw this as a lazy way of getting the performance review done with minimal effort on my part. After all, I was just about to resign.

For whatever reason, this method worked and I got great feedback (although no raise). Bosses and bosses’ bosses love to know that the people paying the bills like the people issuing the bills. Really, if clients like you, it makes it hard for the firm to say anything bad about you.

I would therefore strongly suggest that, during the course of each year, after you complete a deal, no matter how big or small, you pick your favourite person at the client’s business (or the client themselves, if they are an individual) and send them a short one-page feedback paper. In that paper, ask your client to write down a sentence or two of feedback ‘as it would really help me out’.

Most people are, by and large, halfway decent and will be happy to do this. I think about 90% of the people I asked ended up giving me some sort of response to my questions.

The template I used to send out was as follows – feel free to use and adapt:

1. How would you describe the quality of services provided by [lawyer]? For example, was [he / she] professional and polite? Did [he / she] provide timely responses and meet all of your deadlines? Did [he / she] understand your requirements and provide you with the legal advice you required?

2. Overall, were you satisfied, indifferent, or unsatisfied by the legal services provided by [lawyer]?

3. Was there anything specific that [lawyer] did that really had an impact on you? Can you give an example of where [lawyer] exceeded your expectations?

4. What do you think [lawyer] could do to improve his services to you?

Notice how all these questions are designed to get you positive feedback? Keep the responses on file and bust them out at performance review time.

TIP 2 – USE HARD FACTS

For lawyers, performance reviews really come down to two things – how many hours did you work and how much money did you make the firm?

Most time entry programs will let you work out your weekly or monthly number of billable hours. Take your monthly number of hours worked, divide by 30 and get a daily rate (round up if possible, but don’t push it too far).

If it is under the target billable hour number, don’t worry. Have you done non-billable work? Client development, presentations, mentoring or work for clients that was done fee free or pro bono should help justify why you are under the target.

Estimate how many hours a day you spent on these non-billable activities, and say something like ‘In accordance with our firm’s policy of doing pro bono work and going above and beyond to meet client expectations, I have also committed [x] hours per day to non-chargeable work. However, as the attached client feedback shows, this work was highly valued by the client and directly led to our firm being re-engaged by the client for significant billable work’.

The second thing to do is take your monthly number of billable hours, and times it by your (full) charge-out rate. That tells the firm how much money you made them each month.

If you want to be really tricky, divide this monthly revenue figure by your monthly salary to get your ‘multiple’ – that is, how many dollars you brought into the firm, for each dollar the firm needed to pay you. Somewhere over 4 is great! No pressure though.

TIP 3- LET YOUR BOSS KNOW THEY WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT YOU

Are you the person clients call when they have a problem? Let the firm know.

Are you the only one who knows how your partner files emails and where to find stuff on the document management system? Again, let the firm know.

Your aim here is to remind your reviewer/s that if you leave or are let go, your reviewer/s are going to be in deep poo, as the person that used to have their back and look after them is gone.

Don’t hold back here either. Most performance review forms have a section on organisational skills and complying with document management policies. Make it very clear that you are not just responsible for your own document management, but you also actively ensure that the ‘rest of your team’ (AKA your supervising partner) comply with such policies.

Firms are paranoid about getting audited by the Law Society on these things, so knowing there is someone in the team that has this covered makes you a very, very valuable asset.

Hope that helps, good luck with your performance reviews all!!