Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Continuing Importance of the "No Free Shot Rule!"

When I was practicing law, I was known for having a "kind ear" and an "open door." As a result, new attorneys often found their way to my office for advice and consolation after their written work was ripped apart  (now I guess they would say "disrespected") by a supervising attorney. My advice consisted of two simple questions:
  • Were the changes made because you were wrong (i.e., you misinterpreted  the facts or applied the law incorrectly)?  If yes, then go back and figure out where you were wrong and go talk to the supervising attorney. Own up!
  • Were the changes made because the supervising attorney was more knowledgeable about this particular client (i.e., given the choice of two or more options, does one option work better simply because this attorney knows the history of the client and its needs).  If yes, talk with the supervising attorney and learn how a particular client's needs play a role in the application of law. 
After going through the comments and changes one of these "forgivable" or at least "survivable" options usually became evident to the writer.

The third reason was often a rite of passage. Depending on undergraduate and law school experiences, the law firm environment may have been the first pay attention to detail environment many were asked to function in. As a result, all kinds of preventable mistakes were made. Simple things along the lines of mis-numbered lists, client names misspelled, improper or incorrect citations, spacing errors, incorrectly tracked language, etc. It was often hard for the new attorney to understand why these were so damaging. Fair or unfair, "perception is everything" I would tell them. Then I would explain my "No Free Shot" rule. (Odd that I would pick this analogy as I am not a huge basketball fan other than of the Harlem Globetrotters, but alas I did and I am now stuck with it.)
Meadowlark Lemon
Meadowlark Lemon 1932-2015

Under my "No Free Shot" rule, the submitted work should be flawless when it comes to what can be seen as lazy and sloppy mistakes.  If you add or delete text into a document make sure the language tracks (i.e., the added or deleted text didn't affect pagination or that the internal numbering system still tracks). If  you decide not to send a client a document make sure you change the list on the email or cover letter. Make sure your citations are correct, especially pin point cites because otherwise you are wasting another lawyer's time! And make sure the client's name is spelled correctly (i.e., Inc., Co., and on) and get titles correct!

If your work contains these kinds of avoidable errors, then you have just given the reader the impression that you don't care enough to take the time to get them right or you are simply intellectually sloppy. If the reader can't trust you with simple stuff, how can she or he trust your legal analysis? If you don't pay attention to the details, you have just given someone a "Free Shot" to dismiss the work on its presentation rather than on its merits.

Having just completed a large editing project, I can attest that the underlying premise of the "No Free Shot" rule still exists. As an editor, I had to continually remind myself to pay attention to the content rather than the annoying errors in some of the work. In some cases it was hard to do so. You start to look for the next error simply because you are now looking to fix things rather than paying attention to the message in the content. In the end, I learned about how to better structure the process so if I am ever asked to edit a large scale work again I will have a better system in place.

The end message: I will still work the "No Free Shot"into my conversations with my students when they find their way to my office.

Image credit:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The things that make us sigh . . .

Last weekend when making my weekly friday commute to Chicago, I was musing as usual with only 1/2 an ear tuned to the radio as I had already heard part of the broadcast in the Eastern time zone and was waiting for the central time zone to get caught up.  (Yes, I know the satellite radio subscribers are snickering!)

A small phrase snuck into my consciousness, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," and caught my full attention. The particular NPR programming was being sponsored by The Neofuturists.

The Neofuturists were my first pro bono client with the Lawyers for the Creative Arts.  I helped them incorporate and file for 501(c)3 status with the IRS. I recall that the IRS had a hard time comprehending that the price of admission for the performance was based on the roll of a dice or a draw of card and that the performance was 30 plays in 60 minutes. I also recall that many of the VPKK lawyers had a bit of a time with clients that walked along the atrium to the conference room wearing t-shirts and Converse All-Stars.

The Neofuturists theatre group is now wildly successful. I hope to take in a performance soon.

It isn't often that the past revisits with such good news. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Public Library Junkie Finds the Gem at GTMO!

I was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba the week of February 9 to serve as an NGO Observer at the 9/11 Military Commission hearings. Upon landing the captain of our flight said "Welcome to Cuba, Pearl of the Antilles." During my time there I discovered the real gem - the Community Library.

It was a wonderful surprise to see such a great library facility on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Although it didn't look like much from the outside . . .

24-hour free wifi, inside and outside the building!
  who can resist a door that invites you in with

The Community Library was renovated in 2012. The news article I found describing the renovation noted that the Community Library serves 135,000 users!  The collections were current and in great shape. I found many favorites in the well-stocked children's and young adult sections.

Show me a child who wouldn't want to come to story hour in this room?

Story hour: 4:00 Friday

One couldn't help feeling at home here. The librarians were very friendly, the computers new, and the seating and work areas comfortable. The electronic resources were impressive  - Academic Search Premier was just one of many available for use!

The Community Library is open noon - 9 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. The usual public library "comforts" were available -- reader advisory brochures and Library Bingo! I got a Reading Bingo Card as a souvenir.

I was a bit sad not to be there to attend the murder mystery dinner!
Whenever possible I used the wifi at the Community Library, even though it meant a 10-minute escort van ride, because it was faster and more reliable than the weekly $150 ethernet access at Camp Justice. It didn't hurt that "I am a public library junkie!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pay Attention

In mid-December I traveled to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba with 11 other NGO observers, representing law schools, human rights organizations, and the American Bar Association, to observe and monitor pre-trial motion hearings in the 9/11 case. My role as an NGO observer is to be an independent, objective witness to help ensure that a fair and transparent legal process is occurring. As the eyes and ears of the outside world and, most importantly, the American public, I took this honor and responsibility very seriously. I did a substantial amount of “homework” to enhance my understanding of not only the content of the case and the motions to be heard, but also of military commission procedure, international human rights law, and the right to a fair trial. Because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released what is now known as the “Torture Report” two days before I left, I read that report as well. In retrospect, nothing could have fully prepared me for the experience, even though I have been working with the Military Commission Observation Project here at the Indiana University McKinney Law School for more than six months.

My last important obligation is to share my findings as broadly as possible.The importance of this obligation has been reinforced by how frequently people respond with surprise when I tell them why I went to Guantánamo Bay. They say, for example: “Is that still going on? What is it? Isn’t that over yet? Aren’t they guilty? Why is the government spending all that money?”

As one way of sharing broadly, I decided to offer an executive summary of my findings in this forum as to whether a fair and open process is occurring at Guantánamo Bay. You can find additional thoughts in my posts at The Gitmo Observer

The executive summary is four short sentences:
  • The Military Commission is the process we are using at this time to determine innocence and guilt, and ultimately, any sentences to be imposed on the defendants.
  • The government and judiciary have determined that the best place for the Military Commission process to be conducted is Guantánamo Bay.
  • It is currently anticipated that the 9/11 trials will begin no earlier than 2018; as such there are and will be many more actions that will work to deny fair trials to the defendants.
  • It is imperative that we as Americans pay attention to ensure that fair and transparent legal proceedings occur.
A recent New York Daily News op-ed piece written by a member of a 9/11 victim’s family vehemently and passionately objected to the release of the Torture Report because in her opinion the Torture Report made the detainees into victims. In the author’s opinion the committee was influenced by “a narrative written by anti-American ideologues in thrall of international human rights activists with no allegiance to nations.”

I disagree. The victim of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program described in the Torture Report is our Constitution. If we fail to ensure that each of these individuals is afforded a fair trial, we will have failed our Constitution and ourselves. If, and that is a very big if, we are to salvage any aspect of process going forward, we must ensure that the voice of our Constitution resonates as loudly and passionately as the other voices.

As members of the legal community, we stand in a unique position that enables us to question and evaluate the process. We deal with the law and the fair and judicious application of the law every day. We are trained to question, reason, and identify the incongruities. We have an obligation to stand firm to the principles of our Constitution when horrific actions tempt peaceful people to act outside the law. In my opinion, there is currently no better place to exercise that obligation than in reference to the monitoring and evaluation of the legal process occurring at Guantánamo Bay. All we need do is take the time to pay attention.

We cannot rely on others or even the press to pay attention and question on our behalf. On this trip, only four press agencies were present: Miami Herald, The Daily BeastThe Washington Free Beacon,
and Berliner Beitung. Currently, the Miami Herald provides comprehensive and, in many instances, the only coverage of the proceedings at Guantánamo Bay. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has been on the story since the first detainees arrived in Guantánamo Bay in January 2002.

Fortunately it is remarkably easy to “pay attention.” The Gitmo Observer
project, as well as others such as Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union, report on the legal proceedings and activities at Guantánamo Bay. Rosenberg maintains a twitter feed (@carolrosenberg), and there is an extensive archive and resource collection at\guantanamo.

This untitled poem by Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a Protestant pastor who spoke out against Adolf Hitler and spent seven years in a concentration camp, reflects my experience at Guantánamo Bay and informs my call to speak on behalf of our Constitution:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Addressing the Perception Problem

This summer’s media images of colleagues, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers huddled together over three-by-four inch cell phone screens and shared ear buds during the World Cup recalled memories of sitting in the front room with my dad, brothers, and stray relatives watching Sunday afternoon football on television. CBS and ABC were the only options in rural north-central Wisconsin in the early 70’s; essentially limiting all Sunday television viewing to sports until such time as the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom made its weekly appearance. As a less than an engaged-and-willing participant, I typically inquired if we were cheering for the black team or the white team (i.e., which team was the Green Bay Packers). A question of necessity given that my family owned a 20-inch black and white television. In the excitement of the game I doubt we thought much about the size of the screen or the lack of color; instead my family was interested in the game.

Similarly the World Cup images reminded me that the need for information is paramount and that convenience
is going to trump format. That is, even though screens of once un-imagined size were displaying the matches, sports fans and patriots that were seeking information wanted it now!  In fact, so much so that they were willing to huddle at train stations and bus stops and near vending machines with complete strangers to watch the action on small screens. Or in my experience, to detour on the homeward bound commute to stand drink-less and three-deep in the doorway of Miller’s Pub on Wabash Avenue in Chicago in order to be part of the collective cheering on of the home town team. In short, a simple every-day reminder that facilitating information means tailoring it to the community.

Likewise the recent OCLC report, “At a Tipping Point: Education, Learning and Libraries” advises librarians that we need to start listening more closely to our communities. The report notes (ironically) that libraries are branded as the “book” place despite evidence that our electronic resources and services far surpass our print collections and on-site services. The research results indicate that our communities want libraries that are convenient to use, support online learning, and function as places “where work gets done.” For some reason, our users don’t seem to think this describes us!  So in short, we have a perception problem and we need to reframe our message to move us beyond the out-of-date and inaccurate “book” brand. The OCLC report warns that our survival depends on this rebranding. 

Where to start? I went back to the basics and reread The Atlas of New Librarianship. I often return to David Lankes, because well, I’ve long thought his theory about librarianship is “right” for lack of a better word. Given that, the Atlas was likely to be the place to help me come up with ideas to address the perception problem.
Book Cover Atlas of New Librarianship

Lankes reminded me that “Innovation is not a time slot, it is an attitude.” In other words, I was not going to be able to solve a “perception” problem by setting aside an hour one afternoon and getting it done! Nor was it going to be easy or comfortable. His advice: “be merciless in questioning tradition: Uphold what works and innovate or eliminate the rest.” Last and perhaps most importantly, he reminded me that innovation is not invention. Somehow that makes it all seem so much less daunting!

Academic librarians are very privileged. There is a feeling that we get a “do-over” with each fall semester. And if each fall comes with an opportunity (real or imagined) to “do it better” than I want to make sure I don’t squander the opportunity. So I have some thinking and evaluating to do. In the end I want my library to develop 21st century information skills in its users. In other words I want my users to recognize when there an information need and understand that the library has the resources and services to help them respond to the need in a scholarly and professional manner. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Considerations and recollections

Last Friday morning found me standing in the back of a garbage truck offloading Northeastern Reporters from library carts and out of dumpsters. At the Ruth Lilly Law Library we are "right sizing" our print collection; that is, among other things, reducing to and retaining one copy of this resource. It is hard to believe that at one time the law library owned as many as ten working copies of this reporter. As I worked with colleagues throwing bound volumes into the truck I experienced déjà vu of my work at the Legal Resources Centre. Dumpsters (or dustbins) seem to figure a lot in my career these days.
The memory reminded me that I needed to make a decision about this blog. I admit I have been deliberately avoiding making a decision. All transitions require time to process and I didn't want to make a decision too quickly.

There are many days that I feel I am still in transition. I've been back from South Africa for just a little over two months.The days have included a whirlwind of interesting and challenging work activities: the AALL Leadership Academy; writing an accepted book chapter and preparing a poster session on digital credentialing for AALL San Antonio with my colleagues; co-authoring a paper for the Boulder Conference; locating a publication outlet for a co-authored article on adjunct teaching (currently appears that the NYSBA is going to publish the piece--yippee--); writing a guest blog post for the RIPS Law Librarian blog; presenting at the Indiana University Librarians' Day; preparing and submitting grant applications and proposals for upcoming conferences; teaching legal research to 110 students in the summer session; orchestrating changes to the AALL Spectrum Blog; moving the last two issues of this year's AALL Spectrum to completion; coordinating a library team retreat; and generally getting caught up with my staff and the library's activities. On top of all that I decided to begin the legal informatics certificate and pitch my resume into pools for a select few library director openings. In short, I've spent the last two months shifting back into tenure-track academic law librarianship.

I am asked almost daily, "Do you miss South Africa?" It is a hard question to answer. I still respond to queries and provide assistance to the LRC as best I can from Indianapolis. The work was meaningful and valid. The country is beautiful. The people I met, dedicated and working hard for meaningful change. So yes, it is a place and a people I miss.

Since I've been back I've sought to find the same here. Beauty is easy to find. I arrived back in Indiana at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In our yard, the spring flowers were arriving. Daffodils, and the spring wildflowers (Purple Trilliums, Violets, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bloodroot, and Dutchman's Breeches) were beating back the polar vortex.

Spring  wild flowers, Indiana 2014

Spring wild flowers, Indiana 2014

Purple Trillium, Indiana 2014

Soon to follow the Bleeding Hearts, Forget-Me-Nots, lilacs, and now the peonies have made the long cold winter a distant memory.

Work has presented a tangent that is interesting and meaningful. I've been asked to work with the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project of the IU McKinney Program on International Human Rights. I hope to report back to George Bizos that I took his lunch table lectures to heart and helped in some very very small way on the resolution of the Guantanamo Bay prison. This project along with another article in progress should keep me occupied for a bit.

And like South Africa, we have our own wildlife. Max and Ellie Mae are determined hunters, bent on ridding our yard of anything small and furry. 

Ellie Mae on spotting duty, Spring 2014
Max on the trail, Spring 2014

So much for that grooming session.
Right-angles present themselves each day; and two-resume families are often faced with hard choices. Our most recent right-angle required the usual "5:00 am depression of the clutch of a moving truck on a Saturday morning" and the hauling of material goods up to a fourth floor walk-up in Evanston (Why is it always 5:00 am? If I knew I could change the paradigm!). For now we are splitting our furnishings and time between Chicago and Indianapolis as we involve ourselves in yet another of life's adventures to which we could not say "no."

Since life and work remain interesting I am hopeful for blog content; or perhaps I'm just delaying the end of an interesting project. Until then I hope you will keep reading. In the interim, may I recommend Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s advice in his work A Man without a Country,“Please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The park opens at 4:30 am!

During my time here in South Africa I have become quite the "hanger-on." I rarely turn down an invitation, even if the invitation starts out with "I'll pick up you up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday!" Saying yes in this case meant a weekend trip to the beautiful Mpumalanga Province in northeastern South Africa.The drive was five hours each way; with the rest of the time spent driving around in Kruger National Park.   

With only a brief coffee and re-fueling break on Saturday morning, we reached the north gate of the park around 11:00 and spent the entire day driving nearly deserted dirt roads. As usual, my photographs don't begin to due justice to the scenic beauty and the majesty of the animals.

We were a bit late to the waterhole! 

Kruger National Park is pretty rugged and wild.
The landscape was diverse and more untamed than the other reserves I have visited. We started on the grasslands, drove along the river, and roamed these rocky hills. There was a lot of rain, so I was very happy in be a large Land Rover. I was a bit worried when I saw a few small economy sized rental cars negotiating the flooded dirt roads.

 His mate and their baby were a bit too busy too come out for the photo shoot.

We were lucky enough to see a 1/2 dozen rhinos during the weekend.

The highlight was a "high noon" stand-off between a pack of wild dogs and a herd of zebras. Sightings of wild dogs are pretty rare, as there are only 120 wild dogs left in the park. The female in the foreground is wearing a tracking collar. 

We watched the ongoing negotiations and posturing for an hour. Eventually the zebras decided not to cross at this point.

As we rounded a curve in the road, we spotted a small group of elephants. The small group got larger and we decided it was in our best interests to reverse back out of their way. They decided we could have the road back after about 2 kilometers. 

We spent Saturday night in the park in a rondavel, think very cute round cabin with a reed roof.
Photo credit: Kruger National Park 

The kitchen was on the outside of the building; in locked cages to prevent the monkeys and badgers from carrying off our supplies and the kitchenware. 

When finishing dinner (which we cooked) my companion mentioned that the park opened at 4:30 a.m. Since we were three minutes from the gate, I negotiated getting up at 5:00 and leaving our room by 5:30. As a result I had to live down that our view of two rhinos was blocked by another car before the sun was even fully up.

The scenery on the drive back to Johannesburg was equally gorgeous.

Of the 38 hours that I was away from my Johannesburg apartment, I spent 26 hours in the car. Yet one more reason to be glad that it was a Land Rover!