Drink 'N Learn seminars bring education to informal setting

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Sometimes it pays to provide educational opportunities in an informal setting.

That is the concept behind the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association's Drink 'N Learn seminars that are being held throughout the first half of this year at restaurants and watering holes around Detroit.

One of the reasons to have the seminars in a public setting is to draw attention and interest, said Elizabeth Jolliffe, a DMBA board member who helped create the concept with fellow board member Morley Witus. Jolliffe is a lawyer and owner of Your Benchmark Coach, an Ann Arbor-area lawyer career coaching consultant, while Witus is an attorney with Barris, Sott, Denn, & Driker PLLC.

The feedback received from the first Drink 'N Learn seminar in March was positive because of the comfortable setting, she said.

"It allows us to get a nice following and attendees may think about staying a bit longer," Jolliffe said. "It's a really no-cost, low-cost way for us to get some attention and build some interest in this seminar series.

Andrew Doctoroff, a partner with Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, & Cohn LLP and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law instructor, will be speaking to attendees of the Drink 'N Learn program on Thursday, April 21 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Caucus Club in Detroit on things that young lawyers should consider when taking on a case in addition to its likely merits. The seminar, titled "Taking on a New Case: Factors to Consider," will feature a variety of topics that the typical young lawyer may not think about when evaluating a potential case.

"There are a number of other factors to consider that should help you decide if a case or a client is worth the time and effort," said Doctoroff, who teaches a class on Litigation Practice at UDM Law. "I find that many younger people at a firm don't learn that skill until they become more senior and in fact many experienced lawyers have a difficult time making rational decisions on the merits of a case."

Such issues as credibility of a client, associated costs, whether as a lawyer you get along socially and professionally with an opposing counsel, whether the client's litigation costs can, or need to be financed and whether you actually have the time for such work should all be factored into the thought process, Doctoroff said.

It is very rare for law school students to even have discussions on such issues in their graduate courses. Typically lawyers in training are trained to look at the merits of winability, Doctoroff said. But the conversation about what else plays a role in a possible case must also be examined.

Daniel Cherrin from Fraser, Trebilcock, Davis, & Dunlap PC will be leading a May 19 seminar at the Anchor Bar in Detroit on how lawyers can best deal with the media. "Lawyers, Media and the Court of Public Opinion" will review with attendees how lawyers can communicate with the media without adversely impacting a client's case.

One strategy that is often lost when lawyers talk to the media is that they should simply stick to the facts of the case, said Cherrin, an attorney and director of marketing for Fraser Trebilcock in Lansing. Interacting with the media should only be done if the reputation of a client is not harmed.

"You need to pay attention to the broader legal objectives here," Cherrin said. "You don't need to avoid speaking to the media but you do want to only recite the facts. Don't get into deep analysis or hypotheticals even if you think it can help (your client)."

Lawyers should also be prepared to research a journalist before they speak with him or her, much like they would prepare for a case. Checking for the individual on LinkedIn or other social networking websites and pulling up some of that writer's past clips online can help define their background and the audience they are writing to.

Cherrin also will review the use of such media buzzwords as "no comment" and "off the record," and when to use those terms.

The attendees for the Drink 'N Learn seminars are largely expected to be young lawyers and the DMBA will be determining how many more seminars under this program is feasible based on interest and topics, Jolliffe said.

"We'll be seeing what the attendance is and go from there," Jolliffe said. "We've had some great feedback and some excitement so I hope we do get more seminars scheduled this year. "We want to develop a good system that will keep our members engaged."

In days gone by before the onset of high billable hour requirements, lawyers used to meet up at the bar after work, have a beverage and share stories or advice before heading home. There was also a lot more camaraderie because there were fewer lawyers and everyone knew each other.

"We would like to create that feeling for people," Jolliffe said. "They can drop by, or bring some friends, and get to know others and feel like part of a legal community."

Doctoroff feels that having such a seminar in social setting is advantageous because he feels it may attract more attendees while allowing for a more open, informal conversation, and therefore a more positive experience for everyone involved.

"It does provide us with a more inviting environment," Doctoroff said. "There's no reason why learning and socializing can't be a part of the greater mix."

The DMBA is searching for members or other lawyers who may be interested in developing a Drink 'N Learn seminar topic. Other feedback is also encouraged. Call (313) 961-6120 to volunteer to lead a seminar or for more information.

Published: Thu, Apr 21, 2011