Law and Conversation

August 26, 2010

Thursday thanks!

I’d like to thank cozy mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig, who writes the most excellent Mystery Writing Is Murder blog, for being the very first person to add this blog to her blogroll.  Elizabeth’s new book, “Delicious And Suspicious” (under the pen name of Riley Adams), came out on July 6.  You can read reviews of it as well as her earlier cozy mystery, “Pretty Is As Pretty Dies,” and order them from Amazon, here.  Elizabeth has a knack for taking mundane events in her life, such as going to the grocery store or getting her house ready for the installation of new carpeting, and relating them to the craft of writing.

I’d also like to thank Zimbabwean lawyer and writer Petina Gappah, whose book of short stories, “Elegy for Easterly,” and articles I read and wrote about earlier this summer, for visiting, leaving kind comments, and adding this blog to her blogroll.  Petina is part of a crop of vibrant modern African writers that includes Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and Marguerite Abouet.  She presents a fascinating, three-dimensional picture of contemporary Zimbabwe in her fiction and nonfiction.

I love the Internet for making it so easy to find and connect with people with similar interests from all over the world!

Whom have I missed?  I have some more posts in the works thanking others who have linked to this blog and referenced my work.  If you’ve linked to this site and/or included it on your own blogroll, or otherwise referenced my work, please let me know.

June 14, 2010

Twitter is for trials!

Filed under: Law,Social media,Technology,trials — Helen Gunnarsson @ 1:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

If you’re fascinated as I am by the high-profile federal corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich and his brother but actually have work or other obligations that preclude your attending the trial in person, the next best thing is following the Twitter feeds of journalists who are live tweeting it.  I’ve set up a list at of 15 (so far) journalists and others who are tweeting about the trial, either directly from the courtroom or from wherever they happen to be.  I’ve tried to limit it to those who tweet either exclusively or primarily about the trial, though some may tweet about other matters, generally related to Illinois politics and government.  Please tell me whether I’ve missed anyone whose tweets ought to be included, and I’ll be very happy to add that person.  If you’re a Twitter user, you can follow the list; alternatively, you can just check the link whenever you feel the need for a Blago trial fix.

May 18, 2010

Big Brother monitors the Internet, and Kindle readers, too.

In my cover story in the April 2010 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, “The Internet:  Your (Mostly Free) Private Investigator,” I wrote about lawful methods of finding out information about people over the Internet.  As usual, I had incredibly knowledgeable, interesting sources who also happen to be very nice people:  two Chicago litigators, Todd Flaming and Kent Sezer, and an Alton, IL police computer crime detective, Mike Bazzell, who also presents on computer crime and internet safety issues.  The article’s directed to lawyers who have a need for finding out everything they can about their opposing parties, witnesses, and, in some cases, their own clients, but I think anyone reading it would find the information in it useful and interesting.

Since my article was published, some new developments highlighting the lack of privacy and what you can find out about other people on the Internet have been reported. 

First, PCWorld magazine’s blog, like other publications, reports on the multiplicity of clicks and menus that you have to go through on Facebook if you want to lock down your privacy settings.  Anyone on FB who cares about privacy probably already knows what a time-consuming pain in the neck it is to make sure all of your settings are adjusted to your satisfaction, but the article also refers to a free tool I was unaware of at to verify what, if any, information from your Facebook account is available to anyone. 

Parenthetically, every time Facebook tweaks its information sharing policies, I think about deleting my own account.  I haven’t because I really like FB for making it easy and efficient to get back in touch and stay connected with friends, especially those I may not be able to see much, as well as for providing an avenue to get to know people better.  I resolve my feelings about the data-sharing issues by never posting anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on the front page of the Chicago Tribune tomorrow.  The Zesty tool is useful for double-checking whether you’ve got your settings properly adjusted.

Second, I recently learned of a new site that aggregates publicly available information about people:  I must say that it’s a pretty good site!  But I wonder where it gets some of its information.   Among the information about me on the site was that I love to read; I’ve put that information out there myself, and I’m perfectly happy for people to know that fact about me.  The site also reported that I’m not interested in politics and I have a high school education.  Where did the site get the former information, I wonder?  It’s not quite true, though, indeed, I don’t generally enjoy political discussions and don’t volunteer my political views (though when asked, I have been known to answer).  The latter information also isn’t accurate:  I certainly do have a high school education, but I didn’t stop there!  And I only wish the site’s vastly inflated estimate of the value of my home were correct. 

Though none of Spokeo’s information about me was exactly offensive, I found it disconcerting to have this (not entirely accurate) data compiled about me as a virtual dossier, so I removed it by clicking on the site’s Privacy link and filling out the form.  I realize, of course, that other aggregator sites will still maintain such dossiers and that there’s not much any of us can do about it.  If you want to know what Spokeo has on you, hie yourself over to the site, plug in your name, and take whatever action you wish after doing so.

Third, and most unsettling to me, was some news about the Kindle:   Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project learned that Amazon is looking over your shoulder as you use the device.  She writes “It turns out that Amazon keeps track every time someone highlights a passage from a book on a Kindle! Yes, if you’ve highlighted a sentence on your Kindle, Amazon knows.” 

I don’t own a Kindle or want one myself, but the people I know who have them love them.  I can understand why:  it’s light, fits in a handbag, and if you’re an expat in a country where bound books in your language aren’t readily or economically available, like one family I know, it’s the perfect solution.  It seems to me it would also be great for students to use instead of having to lug around heavy and costly textbooks, especially since the device enables highlighting.  But I’d hate to have a Big Brother logging my highlightings or annotations–it’s way too much like having someone peering into your very thoughts.  Also, I can remember some pretty callow comments I made in the margins of some of my college texts, and I wouldn’t want anyone reading them and thinking I’m still so naive!

Speaking of The Happiness Project, it’s a lovely site, written by another lawyer mom who wrestles with many of the same issues I do–do check it out!

December 10, 2009

Online job applications

Today I read an article on searching for jobs online that contained such advice as “be professional,” “don’t apply for jobs for which you’re not qualified,” and “remember that you have competition.” 

The article got me to thinking about online job applications and how the internet does make it at least somewhat easier to find out about available jobs and apply for them.  But I was wishing that it had told readers something that wasn’t obvious and that they don’t already know. 

I wrote “Shakin’ The Pink Slip Blues,” the cover story for the May 2009 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, on job finding fundamentals for lawyers and others in this dismal economic climate.  You can access it here if you’re a member of the Illinois State Bar Association: .  I interviewed two Chicago area career counselors, Sheila Nielsen and Marilyn Moats Kennedy, and got some terrific commentary and solid suggestions from them for how to conduct a job search.  I also included a sidebar with some really helpful external links, including one of my current favorites for career and life advice, Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist .   Some of my links and my sources touched on online job applications, but I had room to treat that subtopic only briefly.

So after reading the other article I ran across today, I started thinking about online job hunting some more and came up with some questions to which I’d love to see some concrete, helpful answers.  (And would love to write another article including them, too.)

Online job applications require all fields to be filled out, but the questions may be vague or otherwise poorly crafted and permit only a limited number of characters for response. Readers, how would you suggest handling these common online job application questions?

1) “Why did you leave your last job?”

The answer to this question may be manifold and complex, and is far easier discussed in person.  Is a nonspecific answer such as “Wanted to explore other opportunities” sufficient to avoid the online application’s being weeded out? 

2) “What is your minimum salary requirement?”

I’ve never found a good suggestion for this one, whether it’s presented online or in person (though Penelope Trunk comes pretty close when she writes about it in the in-person context at  ).  The employer never discloses the range, so candidates are presented with the unattractive option of lowballing what they would like and ought to be paid for fear of having their applications thrown out. I suspect that online programs won’t permit submission of the form without a dollar figure in the field, but I haven’t tested this to find out.

3) “What percentage of time are you available for travel?”

Well, what percentage is the position expected to travel?  Like salary range, the employer probably hasn’t revealed this, either, or candidates may be submitting their applications for consideration for any available position for which they’re qualified—as many employers invite them to do.  Is the employer looking for how flexible you are—i.e. any day of the week for any length of time—or total amount of time that you’re willing to be on the road?  If you say “20%,” will your resume be weeded out without an interview because the application program or the employer interprets this response to mean only 1 day a week when the job actually requires weeklong trips now and then, so the correct answer is 100% even though the position does not require the candidate to be on the road 365 days a year?  Is the correct answer ALWAYS 100%?

If you’re an HR professional or someone with responsibility for hiring, please think about your application process.  You might be unintentionally weeding out some  terrific candidates by some poorly crafted questions or less than sensitive procedures.  If you’re a person without a job and/or without health insurance, my heart goes out to you on this chilly December day.  There but for the grace of God go all of us. 

June 10, 2009

Twitter–140 characters, why bother?

Filed under: Social media — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:49 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been browsing the Piano Forum on for a number of months now, both before and after purchasing an old piano and having it rebuilt. (Anyone who has any interest in pianos, either from a technological or musical standpoint, go check out PianoWorld right now—it’s the best.)

I’d posted only once until a few nights ago, when I saw a post from one of the site’s owners, Frank B.: “OT: Twitter users?” asking who uses Twitter and what they think of it. (You can view the thread at .) Reviewing the responses, I found two from a member whose posts on topics directly related to pianos have been knowledgeable and helpful, dismissing Twitter as a useless timewaster for attention-seeking juveniles. Having had more or less the same attitude toward social media until I tried them out, and having just published an article on lawyers and social media (it’s the cover story in the June 2009 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, published by the Illinois State Bar Association and available online at , I couldn’t resist chiming in.

Here’s my take on Twitter and online social networking in general, partly taken and edited from my PianoWorld post:

 Social networking is just another way of interacting with people. Yes, some people tweet about inanities. Some people e-mail inanities, too (or post them on blogs or discussion boards), or bend your ear with inanities on the phone or at a cocktail party or a professional meeting or a school function or when you run into them on the street. Some people make fools of themselves in social situations, whether online or in person, and some people are unpleasant. But that doesn’t mean that you, too, must behave that way. You wouldn’t decide that you’re never going to use the phone or internet, or attend social events in person because SOME people do not behave well (or, at least, after the fashion that you think they should), would you? Of course not.

People are still figuring out all the things they can do with these media. The key is that they all help you to communicate and make connections with other people, and do it a lot more efficiently than you possibly could in person, or by phone, or even by e-mail. And you can use these media–which are mostly FREE, by the way–to benefit yourself personally or to benefit your business (or both).

Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst on social computing at Forrester Research who blogs at and tweets at , said that nowadays, your business card or your resume is what comes up on a Google search. Like it or not, there’s a lot of truth in that remark. You can use all of these media to help other people find you more effectively and to shape the image of yourself that you want to present to the world. Ignore them, and you’re missing that opportunity.

The jury is still out on exactly how people will use Twitter most effectively. Some question whether it’s just a fad that will be gone and forgotten in five years. But I marvel at the ingenuity some people show in their use of the application. There’s a woman in Northern Ireland who tweets recipes and was written up in the New York Times at for it; follow her at . (Chicago chef Rick Bayless does this, too.) If you follow ChessTweets (; ), you can become part of a community playing a game of chess on Twitter. People tweet poetry and novels, too. And you know what? You can say a lot in 140 characters. The limit forces you to be terse.

Someone asked me the other day whether I think everyone should tweet and be on Facebook and LinkedIn. My opinion is that every professional probably should have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. That profile, by itself, is like having a business card or resume on the internet. When you meet people, which may increasingly be online or over the phone more often than in person, you can direct them to your LinkedIn profile so they can quickly get a pretty good idea of who you are, what qualifications you have, and whether they might like to do business with you.  As to other media, though, no, I don’t think everyone should or needs to use them, just as not everyone needs to play golf or belong to a private club in order to have the business or social life they want to have. I do think that everyone should investigate and consider, not dismiss, them and make a decision whether one or more fits their needs.

Returning to Twitter, here’s my advice, inspired by Colorado career coach Carol Ross, for how to go about getting a feel for what it is and what you can do with it. I’d suggest following a bunch of people whom you think might be interesting to get a feel for how different people tweet. Do that for at least two weeks—maybe a month. If you find that some do nothing but plug their product, maybe you’ll want to un-follow them. (Or, since different people like different things, maybe you’ll think their tweets are great.) Follow me at ; I tweet about a variety of matters that interest me and that I think others might find interesting or ought to know about. Look at whom the people you follow and find interesting follow for ideas of more people to follow. If you, like most Twitter subscribers, have a product or service that you’d like to promote, consider how the people you’re following go about plugging their products or services. What do you like or not like, or find effective or not effective, about what they do? It is totally appropriate to tweet about your own product or services, but you need to do it in a respectful way that doesn’t alienate the people you’d like to be your customers. (Just as you would if you were meeting people at a cocktail party or other in-person gathering and wanted to present yourself in the best possible way.)

It’s also good to keep in mind, as Carol has noted, that an important principle of Twitter etiquette is Give First. That means give credit to others, praise other people’s products or services or posts when you think they’re good, link to other people’s blogs or websites, and do all of those things before expecting others to give something to you. That principle, by the way, seems to me to be what businesspeople and professionals are following when they serve on boards of nonprofit organizations for no pay and do volunteer work for charitable causes. They believe in the causes they’re supporting, yes, but there’s also the hope that their unpaid work will gain them a higher profile and respect among the community of potential clients or consumers or business partners–which, they hope, may lead to more paying business opportunities. And that is a perfectly fine and understandable thing.

In the PianoWorld discussion, another user posted a link to an article that she found helpful, “Why is Twitter so confusing?” at  . Having now read the article, I agree completely with the points in it and recommend it to anyone who’s wondering what Twitter is all about, who’s skeptical of its utility, or who’s dismissed it without exploring it and giving it a fair trial.

One of that article’s most important points, I think, is that the question with which Twitter presents users, “What are you doing?” is probably not the best question to answer when you tweet. Better idea: tweet something that you think is interesting or important, such as a link to a website—perhaps your own, but much of the time it should probably be someone else’s—along with a brief description of why readers should want to click on the link.

For a better understanding of social media, I’d also recommend checking out my article, which you can find in a law library near you even if you can’t access it online. My sources were first-rate! A sampling:

Chicago immigration lawyer Sonya Olds Som, whose website is and who tweets at , pointed out “As someone who’s trying to generate business, I think it’s a very valuable way to stay out in front of your clients and customers without looking like you’re constantly trying to call them and ask them for something.”

Fastcase CEO Ed Walters, whose online legal research company’s main page is at , commented “We’re dealing with lawyers who are very busy. If you want to tell people about something, it’s really hard to get through. People are in court, they don’t have any time, they’re working really hard, they’re on the phone. For some lawyers, social networks are by far the best way of reaching them.”

 John Marshall Law School Professor Mark Wojcik, whose faculty page at links to his sites, commented “It is another way for clients and colleagues to find you. When economic times are difficult, no one can afford to write off an important free resource. Social networking over the Internet will never replace face-to-face meetings…, but they are a fantastic way to stay in touch.”

I can’t say enough positive things about Colorado career coach Carol Ross, whom I met online through social networking while researching my IBJ article:  on Northwestern University’s LinkedIn site.  Carol provided me with some terrific insights into online social networking, pushed me (gently) over the edge to get me to start this blog, blogs herself at and , and tweets at . In interviews for my article, she made many of the points I’ve made above.  In fact, the title of this post, “140 characters, why bother?”  is a direct quote from Carol, explaining her own attitude to Twitter before she, too, “got it.”  Carol has also pointed out that you can turbocharge your blog to get more viewers through using Twitter to tweet about your posts.

One of my favorite quotes of Carol’s from my article sums up Twitter, blogs, and other online social networking media: “Whatever you put out there is going to naturally attract what it should. If you put drivel out there, people who like drivel will be attracted to it. If you put really good stuff out there, people who like really good stuff will be attracted to that. With all these tools, you get the whole mix of humanity out there. You get everything from infantile conversations to some pretty heady stuff, and everything in between. How you choose to use it is up to you.”

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