Bar News - June 12, 2009
The New Lawyers Listserv: An Effective Tool for New Lawyers
By: Jon N. Strasburger
Many sections of the New Hampshire Bar Association (NHBA) sponsor their own e-mail discussion groups, otherwise known as listservs. I am a member of several section listservs and find them to be infinitely helpful.
It may come as a surprise to many members of the Bar that the listserv with the largest membership is the NH Bar New Lawyers Listserv. The listserv is a membership benefit that is made available to all new lawyers in the NH Bar. The reason for the large number of users is that new members of the Bar who provide e-mail addresses are automatically signed up for the listserv unless they opt out. Listserv users are comprised of attorneys with three years or less of membership in the NH Bar, members of the New Lawyers Committee and many experienced attorneys who have opted to stay on the listserv although they are no longer "new lawyers."
Once users have been members of the Bar for approximately three years, they are eventually removed from the listserv unless they notify the list administrator that they would like to remain on the list.
An Invaluable Resource
The New Lawyers listserv is an invaluable resource for several reasons. First, it is a convenient way to allow new attorneys to immediately seek input from colleagues regarding an unfamiliar legal issue. This is especially helpful to the new lawyer who is a solo practitioner or may be in a very small firm and does not have access to lots of other attorneys to share ideas with.
It also provides a medium for new lawyers to get in touch with colleagues who may have had a similar scenario in a given case, and as a result, have lots of helpful tips and information to share. Often within a matter of minutes, posts are answered with a helpful cite to a case on point or perhaps a written order that is a persuasive authority on the subject.
Second, the listserv also provides access to experienced counsel who may be practicing in other jurisdictions. Attorneys that are admitted to the NH Bar on motion are also added to the listserv when they become members of the Bar. Although many of these attorneys are not "new lawyers" in the general sense, they are added to the listserv because they are new to NH practice. Therefore, there are a large number of attorneys on the listserv with many years of practice that perhaps have come from, or are currently practicing, in other jurisdictions. This benefits new lawyers who may have questions about the law in one of our neighboring states.
Finally, the listserv is a quick and cost effective way for the NHBA to communicate important messages to the listserv membership. Over the years there have been postings about upcoming new lawyer events, as well as helpful tips or articles that are useful to new attorneys.
Instantly Pose Questions
The New Lawyers Committee is always looking for new ways to improve the usefulness and function of the listserv for its users. In a recent posting, I solicited comments from users about the effectiveness of the listserv and whether or not users liked the listserv format or would prefer to use a blog. The consensus from the responses received was that generally users appreciate being able to instantly pose questions to the membership. Several attorneys said that they would probably not take the time to go to a blog to post a question or look to see if there was a question posted that he or she could answer.
There were also users that reported finding the e-mail format helpful even if they do not regularly post questions. Several attorneys stated that it was informative for them just to follow the discussions that develop on the listserv.
Despite the general satisfaction with the listserv format, there are users who are concerned about the volume of messages that arrive in their inbox from the listserv and the frequent distraction associated with each new message. There are several things that can be done to address this concern. As an initial matter, it is important to understand that the New Lawyers Listserv is a moderated listserv. When a posting is submitted it goes to the moderator for approval prior to being released to the entire membership. This essentially eliminates unnecessary or inappropriate postings that could have potentially arrived in a user’s inbox.
The users of the listserv and the New Lawyers Committee owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rose Anocibar, Member Services Coordinator at the New Hampshire Bar Association, for serving as the listserv moderator. She does a great job. Rose ensures that the simple "thanks" reply messages or other messages that should have been e-mailed directly to a particular user are not posted to the entire membership. Consequently, only legitimate postings actually get distributed to all the users.
Manage Postings Efficiently
Users can eliminate the distraction of seeing each e-mail posting the instant it arrives by setting up a separate folder for incoming listserv messages. Users can also create a "rule" in their e-mail program for that folder that automatically moves messages coming from the listserv into the folder. This process helps avoid having to manually move the messages and also prevents any listserv messages from entering your general inbox. Users can then look at the posts at their convenience and not get distracted each time a new message comes in. Hopefully, users will consider using this method in lieu of unsubscribing from the listserv altogether.
The New Lawyers Committee is looking at enhancing its page on the NHBA website that will include more information about the listserv, including an account maintenance section that would enable a user to easily change the e-mail address used for the listserv as well as to subscribe or unsubscribe from the list.
[Editor’s note: The programming to administer the website is being redeveloped and thus we do not now have a timetable for when this will occur, but it is on the "wish list" for web enhancements.]
While I do not intend to republish the entire rules and etiquette for the listserv in this article, it is important to remember some basic principles. When it comes to the New Lawyers Listserv, patience is a virtue. Occasionally, questions may appear basic or trivial to certain users. However, it is important to remember that this listserv belongs to "new lawyers." Many users do not have extensive practice experience and may be facing a particular legal issue for the first time. Instead of simply disregarding a post as trivial, I would encourage the more experienced members of the list to respond with any wisdom that can be shared. Remember that there may be other members of the listserv that have the same question but did not ask it.
Also, please think before posting. Ask yourself if the information would benefit the entire listserv membership before hitting the "send" button. This prevents unnecessary work for the moderator and reduces the likelihood that other listserv users will regret having spent the time reading the message. If you receive a helpful reply to a post, please e-mail that person privately with a thank you rather than sending it to the entire list.
It helps to be specific with your subject line headings when posting. Then users can tell instantly what topic the post is about and can read it if they are interested or have information to share. Conversely, if a user sees the subject line and is not interested in the topic, the message can be quickly deleted. Remember not to include attorney/client privileged information in your posts. The listserv has several hundred members and the messages are widely circulated. Also keep in mind that opposing counsel in your case may also be a member of the listserv and may be reading your post. Including too many specifics in a post may have unintended consequences.
Finally, do not use the listserv to attack or disparage other people or entities. The listserv was designed to enable the membership to share helpful information with other members and foster informative discussions about the many questions that face new lawyers. With these basic principles in mind, it is the hope of the New Lawyers Committee that the listserv will continue to be utilized and appreciated. The committee is always open to suggestions from the membership on how to improve the usefulness of this resource.
Jon N. Strasburger is a member of the New Lawyers’ Committee. He has been a member of the NH Bar since 2004 and may be reached at 603-668-2222 or at email@example.com.