Articles By Melissa Green

More Than Pomp and Circumstance

Pomp

For many the month of May means graduation season. Whether eagerly awaiting a graduation ceremony, or fondly remembering a ceremony from days gone by, the images of long robes, and graduation marches are sure to fill your mind.  From the classic “Pomp and Circumstance” to graduation regalia (or as my children like to call them wizard’s robes) the roots of American graduation ceremonies are steeped in European traditions but adapted to fit the unique nature of American universities.   Below is a fun historical prospective detailing how some of these traditions came about.

Pomp and Circumstance

If you’ve been to an American graduation ceremony, or seen one on TV or in the movies, chances are you watched students march in to “Pomp and Circumstance.” How did the song become a staple in American graduation ceremonies?  “Pomp and Circumstance” was composed by Edward Elgar in 1901.  In 1902 the song was used during the coronation of Brittan’s Edward VII.  Four years later, Elgar was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale University, and the song was played as he left the stage.  Over the next couple of years many Ivy League Universities used the song during their ceremonies forming the long-standing tradition.  Over the years the tradition evolved, and the song is now used as a processional rather than a recessional during graduation ceremonies.  Although Elgar likely did not mean to write an iconic piece linked to matriculation ceremonies he probably knew it was perfect for the occasion since he described the song as “a tune that comes once in a lifetime.”

Regalia

Graduation regalia is easy to spot, but the site of a robed student often raises the question why all the pomp and circumstance? The tradition of wearing robes for graduation also comes from Europe.  Unlike “Pomp and Circumstance,” however, it was a tradition borne out of necessity.  Members of the clergy in Europe first sported the robes to keep warm in poorly heated brick buildings in the 12th and 13th centuries.  The use of robes evolved over the years to eventually be associated strictly with academia.  Once used as an academic uniform, robes today are used exclusively for graduation ceremonies.  In 1894 the American Intercollegiate Commission met at Columbia University to standardize graduation regalia for American universities.  Today graduation regalia is unique to each university, but the American Counsel on Education continues to release recommendations.

Graduation regalia is also unique to the degree being honored. Traditionally, students being honored for receiving their bachelor’s degrees wear closed gowns with pointed sleeves; those receiving master’s degrees sport robes with oblong sleeves which may be worn closed or open; doctoral students wear closed robes with bell sleeves often characterized by velvet bands on the front and sleeves.  The iconic mortarboard can be seen on bachelor’s degree candidates, and is also used in high school graduation ceremonies.  Whereas, master and doctoral candidates wear a four, six, or eight sided tam.

Black is the recommended color for graduation robes, but many institutions prefer robes in school colors. The color of the trimmings of doctors’ gowns, edging of hoods, and tassels of caps are often associated with the discipline of the degree.  For example, purple is associated with the study of law, and green with the study of medicine.

Regardless of the regalia worn or the songs played the symbol is the same. The traditions of graduation ceremonies signify to the world the academic achievements that bring together a group of people who may otherwise be very diverse. Take the time to congratulate a graduate this spring, they’ve earned it.

 

Picture:  https://funnytimes.com/20120516/

 

 

Email Etiquette

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The average U.S. employee spends approximately one-quarter of their week sending or reading emails. As the recent corruption trials in New York City gain traction we are once again reminded that emails are forever.  For example, emails have been entered into evidence during the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco (and others) not just between Percoco and his co-defendants, but also between support staff at the governor’s office commenting on Percoco’s attitude and behavior. In one instance a state worker forwarded an angry email from Percoco to a colleague stating: “We aren’t f-in mindreaders.” Another employee reacted in an email, “WTF?” These emails are now part of the record of the trial. (http://www.syracuse.com/state/index.ssf/2018/01/corruption_trial_top_cuomo_aid_says_no_raise_for_syracuse_developers_son_another.html).

Whether it is an inter-office email or an email chain regarding a serious business matter a good rule of thumb is to never send anything in an email that you would not want to see as an exhibit in court. Here are some other email etiquette tips.

Setting Up the Email

  • Do not use your professional email account to send personal emails.
  • Add the recipient last to ensure your email is fully proofed and complete before sending.
  • Keep the subject line short, to the point, and current with the content of the email (change the subject if necessary in a long email chain or begin a new email).
  • Structure – each email should include a greeting, the body of the email, and a signoff or salutation.
  • Include a signature line, and privacy warning notice.

The Body of the Email

  • Avoid the use of profanity.
  • Try to keep your emails brief and on subject.
  • Avoid jokes, sarcasm, and other colloquy’s that must be read in context to be understood. Do not criticize or mock people in emails
  • Select professional font; the text should be black; keep the font size between 10 and 12 point.
  • Proofread! (And then proofread again, and finally proofread a third time.)

General Tips

  • Respond to your emails within twenty-four hours. Even if it is just to let the recipient know when to expect a more detailed response.
  • Avoid sending emails at odd hours. Instead, use the delayed send feature in Outlook to ensure your email is sent at the start of the next business day.
  • Avoid sending unnecessary emails. Every email represents an interruption to the recipient’s already busy workday, use that interruption wisely and for a purpose.
  • For important information stick with formal correspondence by mail.

 

Picture: fitsmallbusiness.com

Planning Ahead in Case of an Emergency

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Keeping up with passwords and usernames in an increasingly electronic world
can be overwhelming at best. For many people even bank statements are now delivered
neatly to electronic inboxes, but have you ever stopped to think who else may need
access to all those usernames and passwords? If something were to happen to you, do
your loved ones know how to access your accounts electronically? While the mechanics
of estate planning are best left to a legal professional, preparing a list of account access
information can give both you and your loved ones piece of mind in times of emergency.

When determining what information to include you should consider who would
manage your affairs if you were unable to do so. For example, if you pay your bills
electronically, does someone know how to access the accounts? Would you like your
loved ones to have access to your email? Next, discuss the list with your loved one; they
may have additional suggestions for information to include. After you have determined
what information to include you should consider how you would like to store the
information.

When making a list of account access information it is important to keep security
in mind. There are various “In Case of Emergency” (I.C.E.) workbooks and resources
available for those who prefer to keep a hard copy of the information. Such books should
be filled out completely and kept in a safe or other secure location. Loved ones should be
informed of the book’s contents and location so that it is easily accessible in times of
emergency. Another option is to keep private information on an encrypted USB flash
drive. Password protected drives can be paired with password protected PDF documents
to give an extra layer of security. As with hardcopies of the materials, it is best to keep
the drive in a safe or other secure location. Finally, there are websites where companies
will electronically store such information for you, though some charge a monthly fee.
(This last solution may be especially helpful if you are someone who has trouble keeping
track of your usernames and passwords for your own use.)

Planning for an emergency is rarely at the top of any to do list, but ensuring that
your loved ones have the ability to manage your affairs in case of a short term illness or
other emergency can save time and ease stress. Creating a list of electronic usernames
and passwords is just one way to ensure that your loved ones have time to focus on what
counts.

Picture: www.compliancesigns.com

 

How to Think Like a Lawyer

Law School

“If you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequence to the place you are in, or the person you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself. That will make a lawyer of you quicker than any other way.” ~Abraham Lincoln, Letter to William H. Grigsby, August 3, 1958

As May turns to June law students all over the country are starting their summer jobs. For many, this is their first exposure to a job in the legal field, and the differences between learning the law and practicing the law are rapidly becoming apparent.  So what do law schools teach students, and how is it different from what attorneys do in practice?  More importantly, if the study and the practice of law are so different why do students spend three years in school before entering the workforce, only to begin their education anew?  The answer is simple, law school teaches a student “how to think like a lawyer,” and the ability to grasp this foundational concept is paramount to the practice of law.

Initially, the study of law in America was trade based.  The process involved finding a mentor and working as an apprentice for up to seven years.  There was no formal education involved, but the mentor was expected to provide the apprentice with “assignments,” such as reading relevant legal precedent and writing legal briefs.  As formal education evolved, however, so too did legal education.  Beginning in the mid-1800’s students began attending universities to learn legal theory.  After completing their education students turned to their employers to learn the practical skills necessary to be successful attorneys.  While law schools today offer more practical curriculum (such as clinics, externships, and legal writing classes) than ever before, the focus of legal education remains the same: teaching students how to think like lawyers.

Learning “how to think like a lawyer” is rough work.  To begin, it requires reading piles and piles (and piles and piles and piles) of cases.  Law students, especially first year law students, routinely spend up to 40 hours per week preparing for classes.  When they are not reading, law students attend classes.  Most law school classes are taught using the Socratic Method.  (A process which involves a professor asking a student a series of questions about increasingly complex and ever changing fact patterns in order assist the student in applying the law they have learned.  If you have never heard of the Socratic Method you can learn more from watching classic law school thrillers like The Paper Chase.)  Fortunately, most modern professors use a modified version of the Socratic Method which includes some lecture and some time for questions from students.  Nevertheless, it is understood that at any given time the professor may turn to a student and begin grilling her on what she learned from the reading.  Each class concludes with a final exam.  The classic final exam asks students to respond to hypothetical fact patterns in essay form.  The goal is to read the fact pattern, spot the legal issues, and apply the law learned throughout the semester to the facts.  Thus, at the conclusion of law school a student understands how to “think like a lawyer,” because she has learned: how to read the law; how to discuss the law; and how to apply the law to a set of facts.

Learning to think like a lawyer provides the foundation to practice law in three ways.  First, having spent three years studying the law a new lawyer knows how to dive into a legal text without feeling intimidated and without taking two hours to read a seven page case.  Second, in light of all their time spent discussing the law (in a highly stressful environment), a new attorney knows a great deal about communicating regarding legal issues; attorneys refer to this type of communication as advocacy.  Finally, by learning how the law applies differently depending on the facts a new attorney has developed the logic and reasoning skills imperative to the practice of law.  However, these things are simply the foundation of practicing law.  In practice, (most) attorneys don’t spend hours reading cases and discussing them, and they certainly do not have time to assess hypothetical situations in order to reveal the minute differences in a given area of law.  This is where law firm training comes into play.

After a student has learned how to think like a lawyer in law school she learns how to practice law at a law firm. In practice an attorney’s day to day tasks vary greatly depending on the type of law they practice.  There are so many different types of law that it would be impossible to learn the ins and outs of each particularized area of practice in school.  Accordingly, new attorneys entering private practice learn these skills from the attorneys they work with.  This process is strikingly similar to the mentor process that predates American legal education.  For example, as an intern at The Wladis Law Firm this summer I have read a variety of contracts and observed numerous real estate transactions.  The training is meant to help me learn how to write contracts and participate in real estate transactions, but it is important that I observe seasoned attorneys first because, despite having completed two years of law school, I have not yet learned how to practice the law.

For a number of years there has been a great deal of debate regarding whether law students learn enough practical skills in law school. Part of this debate stems from the fact that new lawyers are not very productive; in fact, it can take a year or more of training at a firm before a lawyer begins to generate a work product that is profitable.  However, learning how to think like a lawyer has to come first.  It is this training that prepares an attorney to enter the legal world with a basic understanding of the logic and reasoning skills required to practice law.  Further, it is only through the rigor of legal education that a student learns the answer to every legal question imaginable, “it depends.”

 

Photo credit: http://www.blogto.com/city/2013/06/the_photos_of_the_week_june_1-7/