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This Gets People’s Attention

By September 4, 2018October 28th, 2020law, Operations

It’s been 11 years since the judge I worked for passed away.

The two years I clerked for Judge Duplantier completely shaped me as a lawyer.

Some of his lessons were hard for me to absorb.

But one thing I picked up quickly was not to waste anything: not words, and especially not time.

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez

Section H’s courtroom was completely devoid of clutter.

The only thing on the desk where the clerks sat was a small placard. On it were written the words to be used to open court (which was done by the law clerks).

I’ll never forget when I first picked up the placard, on my very first day at work.

“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez” were the first words on the placard.

Except I noticed that the last ‘oyez’ was stricken through.

I immediately turned and asked the senior co-clerk why that last word was stricken.

He looked at me with a stern face…

To let me know that what he was about to say next was of utmost importance:

“We only say the ‘oyez’ twice because it saves time.”

That got my attention.

For a long time I believed that Judge Duplantier had strikes the third oyez to save time.

But eventually, the truth hit me.

There was something more than just saving a few seconds in opening the court…

He was sending a message

The judge knew that people would gossip about the two oyez’s. And he knew that would help send his message.

What was his message?

Being efficient with time is of paramount importance.

If he had simply said do not waste time it wouldn’t have meant as much.

Striking through the third oyez was a stroke of genius.

Work smart, not hard

The judge never worked on weekends.

He didn’t have to because he got all of his work done quickly and efficiently. And he made sure that everyone who worked in Section H did the same.

One day I was having lunch with a friend who clerked for another judge in the court, one who was known for only taking clerks from Ivy league law schools.

My friend told me what his judge felt whenever he drove by the Eastern District courthouse on a weekend and saw the lights on his chambers.

“Makes me damn proud to see my clerks in their working hard on the weekends,” the judge said.

One day at lunch I mentioned this to Judge Duplantier. He rolled his eyes, and then grimaced.

“If I ever find out you are in here working on a weekend I’ll know it’s because you have sloppy work habits,” he told me.

Once again, sending the message: don’t ever waste time.

What message are you sending?

If you have people working for you, perhaps you should send a clear message about your expectations for how they should do their jobs.

People will make their own assessments—unless you take the initiative and set the agenda.

Motivating employees is easier when you use practical psychology.  But motivating employees is just one part of something much bigger…

Creating systems to make your practice run smoother and with less hands-on direction on your part.

Stop and think about what Judge Duplantier did with one stroke of his pen: he sent a message that every clerk received, understood and adhered to.

The judge also had a systems manual which he called the Bible. That was where most of his directives were located.

But having a systems manual is just one part of systematizing your practice.

Sometimes you just need to use psychology.


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to check this out.
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