Thomas G. Martin has what journalists call a major “get” with his podcast interview of one of the smartest and most high-achieving people I have ever met, Carolyn Elefant. I don’t know how one person can accomplish so much.

She bills herself on Twitter/X as an “attorney, author, blogger and innovation advisor.” She’s better qualified than anyone I know (except maybe Greg Siskind or Dennis Kennedy) to be an innovation adviser for lawyers.

I used to pride myself on being able to spot promising young talent. Carolyn was one of my best finds. Her early-adopter blog caught my attention around 1998, so I invited her, sight unseen, to cohost a Maryland State Bar CLE program. It was her first legal tech speaking engagement.

Inviting her turned out very well for me. I got lost driving to the conference site in Columbia and was late. When I arrived, she had everything under control, so my embarrassment was limited. Thanks, Carolyn!

Compliance with the following basic slide show formatting principles can make make your presentation appear much more professional:

Colors. Old fashioned transparencies, often referred to as overheads, worked much better as dark text on a light, preferably white background. Modern computer slide show projectors use a different technology. With slides, light colored text works best against a dark background.

What background color is best? Some authorities suggest trying to match colors to the emotional mood you are trying to create. For example:

Purple: Royalty, wisdom, spirituality, mystery

Green: Nature, environment, health, reptiles, insects

Gray: Conservative, practical, reliability, security, staid

See the Think Outside the Slide website for more.

Certainly there might be some benefit to this approach in some situations. However, as a practical matter I usually give these factors little consideration when preparing my own slide shows. I normally use the color combination that is generally acknowledged to have the highest legibility: Dark blue background, with light text, usually white or yellow. The most important thing for me is that the audience be able to read the slides easily. I’ll use methods other than color if I feel I need to maniuplate the audience’s emotions.

Whatever color scheme you choose, to improve legibility try to maximize the contrast between foreground and background. Light grey text on a medium gray background is a recipe for disaster. The Think Outside the Slide website has a color contrast calculator.

Bullet Points. Bullet points have the salutory effect of improving quick comprehension. However, deploy them wisely. Squeezing too many bullet points on a slide creates a cluttered impression. No more than five bullet points per page is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Bullet Point Sub-Levels. Avoid having more than two levels of bullets on slides. In other words, you can have a bullet point, and one sub-level below them. If you need more sub-levels to convey complex ideas, it’s better to break them into more slides.

Templates. Good slide show software provides templates (called “slide masters” in MS PowerPoint) to provide a consistent layout. I occasionally see presenters who do not use templates. It’s nearly always a mistake. The templates are designed by professional designers. The defaults in a decent template will facilitate a professional appearance. A Google search on the phrase using powerpoint templates will find plenty of tutorials to get you started. You can override the template for a particular slide if you want, you can even modify the template if you need to, and you can even create your own templates. In any event, take advantage of templates to help make a good impression on your audiences.

Logos. Some presenters who have just learned how to edit templates or create their own succumb to the temptation to include their organization’s logo on every slide. This is popular in businesses as a form of “branding,” but there is a drawback in that including a logo limits your flexibility to structure subsequent slides. The best approach is probably to include the logo on the first slide, and maybe the last. If demands of unsophisticated supervisors or other reasons make you feel you absolutely must include the logo on every slide, make it small, except on the first slide and the last, where you can usually get away with more. Whatever you do, don’t follow the example of one government conference presentation I saw that included no less than four different agency seals on every single slide, one for each of the four copresenters!

Glad to see my latest article on slide shows in the June issue of LLRX.com. An excerpt:

Antipathy toward slide shows is understandable but misdirected. Most are poor. Too many users of slide shows don’t understand what they are doing or don’t put in enough effort, or both. A high percentage of slide shows are painful for audiences. However, the story is not that simple.

A slide show is a tool, an instrument like a hammer, airbrush or violin. A poorly constructed house is the result of bad carpentry. A poor airbrush user makes the classiest model look like a tramp. A poor violinist will make a Stradivarius sound like a hungry cat.

Good carpenters build sturdy houses. Good airbrushing can make ordinary models look glamorous. The gifted Jacqueline Du Prey made Dvorak’s Cello concerto sublime. Good slide shows can help presenters better educate, persuade, and even inspire.

Enhance Training Materials With Font Choices

Accurate, and engaging content is the key to computer slide shows. However, appearance counts, and counts big. Font choice is one subtle but important appearance factor. It’s worth taking some time to understand the basics of font choices for slide shows, and how they compare to other tools ethics trainers use to help their audiences, including printed handouts, transparencies, slide shows and online presentations.

The first step in being able to intelligently select fonts for use in training materials is to understand the key distinctions between categories of fonts: serif vs. sans serif, and print vs. screen, and system vs. professional:

Serif vs. Sans Serif

Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, have small ornamentation at the ends of letter strokes, called “serifs,” or “hinting.” Sans serif fonts, like Arial, lack such ornamentation. Decorative fonts (including script) are a third category that will rarely be useful for lawyers. I have prepared a font chart illustrating the three basic types, serif, sans serif and decorative.

Trick Question: Which style is more legible, serif or sans serif?

Short Answer: It depends on the medium. In general, serif fonts are better for printed matter, like books or newspapers. Sans serif fonts are better for computer displays.

Rationale: Serif fonts are easier to read in big blocks of text. The serifs help readers recognize the shape of a word, rather than decoding each letter individually. Nearly all books are printed in serif fonts, for this reason.

The problem with serif fonts is that they are harder to read at low resolutions, like on computer monitors. For example, laser printer resolution starts at 300 d.p.i., and can go up to 1200 d.p.i. Times Roman, a serif font, works well at these resolutions. By contrast, computer monitors (and projectors) have much lower resolution. The resolutions are so low that the serifs do not show up. Therefore, sans serif fonts are generally your best choice for computer use, though a sans serif screen font (discussed in the next section) may be OK in some situations.

Sans serif fonts are also easier to recognize as single words. This is why serif fonts are used for traffic signs. Professional typographers tend to use sans serif fonts for headings, and serif fonts for text body.

Print Fonts vs. Screen Fonts

Recent decades have seen a new development: Fonts designed specifically for computer display, sometimes called “screen fonts” or “web fonts.”  Verdana (sans serif) and Georgia (serif) are examples. They look better on a computer display. Many screen fonts (including Verdana and Georgia) don’t look as good when printed on paper. 

System Fonts vs. Professional Grade Fonts

Compters come with a selection of built-in “system fonts,” including the ubiquitous Times New Roman and Arial. Some of these are better choices than others. The most commonly used choices provide the comfort of familiarity, but they are often inferior to less common system fonts, or professional grade fonts available as an upgrade. Broadening your horizons is a way of subtly or not-so-subtly improving the quality of your instructional materials.

The Typography for Lawyers book and website both have good practical advice on font selection, including “naming names” of hackneyed fonts and better choices. At the website, look under the “Font Samples” menu choice. The book has much more detailed information.

Summary 

The following simple rules will make your slide shows look more professional:

  1. Use serif fonts for large blocks of text.
  2. Use sans serif fonts for headings.
  3. Use a screen font (either serif or sans serif) for computer slide shows or websites.
  4. Rather than fall into the Times New Roman/Arial rut of using only the most common system fonts, follow the guidance of experienced professionals when making your font selections.

Want more information about fonts?  The Typography for Lawyers website and related book are the best resources I’ve found on this topic.

Is it really surprising that legal research companies are exaggerating the quality of their Artificial Intelligence apps?

The more significant finding a the new Stanford University study is that both “Westlaw and Lexis offer high quality responses.” As you might expect, the estimable Bob Ambrogi is all over this (here and here).

The eagerness of some lawyers to use accuracy issues as an excuse to reject any use of AI is folly. It’s similar to the many lawyers who were similarly reluctant to use the Internet for legal research back in the 1990s. A few adhered to the Luddit view well into the 21st century!

The answer is simple: Implement appropriate quality control measures. Double-check key citations or arguments. While AI accuracy leaves something to be desired at this point, it’s advanced well enough that lawyers who use AI as well as conventional legal research tools will have the advantage.

Version 1.0.0

This is exactly what I said about using the Internet a quarter century ago. The advice applies just as well today about AI.

Footnote: Want a copy of The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers today? One vendor will sell it to you for $551.96, plus the obligatory $3.99 shipping charge.

It’s time to take a break from business as usual and address something more important than making money. Ahsan Nasar is running an insurgency campaign against a career politician in the House of Representatives, Virginia District 11.

The top issue in Ahsan’s campaign is an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. He is speaking truth to power. The killing of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians, mostly women and children, must stop. I was pleased to meet with him yesterday. He has my complete support.

Predictably, career politicians have accused Ahsan of anti-semitism. Most of my Jewish friends see the matter differently. As a friend I have known and trusted for a quarter century explained:

Yes Bibi [as she calls “Binyamin Netanyahu”] undermined the stability of the country. He is guilty of treason as is Trump. He undermined the military just as Trump and GOP do to this day.

My friends are far from the only ones to feel this way. Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow are calling attention to Palestinian suffering and pushing for a cease-fire.

Netanyahu’s policies and lack of planning are creating a long-range existential crisis for the nation of Israel. There was a worldwide wave of sympathy for Israel in the immediate aftermath of the October 2023 Hamas attack. That has disappeared. A poll just a few weeks later showed a different trend: More people ages 18-29 sympathize with Palestinians than with Israelis in the current conflict. The age gap is striking. Two thirds of those 65 or older believe it is “very important” for the U.S. to protect Israel. Only fourteen percent of 18- to 29-year-olds agree. A more recent Pew Research poll showed the gap is widening.

This trend is ominous. In the long run Israel cannot survive without friends.

Netanyahu’s excuse that he is only trying to destroy Hamas is phony. Israel has a right to self-defense, but there are two big problems with the way it is trying to defend itself:

— The disproportionate killings of innocent Palestinians, while not meeting the technical definition of “genocide,” nevertheless are war crimes and clear violations of customary international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch has a good explanation of the rules, written for non-lawyer audiences. Those wanting more detailed analysis can find it in Red Cross, and United Nations references, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense Law of War Manual, the authoritative U.S. government statement of its law of armed conflict interpretations. The issuance of an arrest warrant for Netanyahu is well justified.

— Netanyahu’s blunders and failure to realistically plan for the war’s aftermath will only make Israel’s enemies stronger in the long range. As respected analyst Josh Marshall (who, if it matters, is Jewish) has pointed out in his essay Tragedy and Folly:

The simple fact is that Netanyahu has waged an unimaginably destructive war with a massive loss of life and managed to accomplish much less than Israel could have if it’d had a clear strategy of what it was trying to do, or, specifically, who would rule Gaza after Hamas had been displaced.

Bottom Line: If your top priority is the long-range survival of Israel, Ahsan is your man.

When Colin Levy speaks, the wise listen. His recent LinkedIn post on keeping up with the intersection of technology and the practice of law has his usual quota of good ideas. Here are some thoughts on a few of the references:

The Legal Tech Ecosystem (Book) (My review).
Colinslevy.com (Website)
Is Levy wrong to open (and close) this list with references to his book and website? Modesty vs. Honesty? I’d be the last to argue with his list.

Tomorrow’s Lawyers (Book).
Can’t go wrong with prophet Richard Susskind.

Working Smarter with Knowledge Tools (Book)
This is one of the best legal tech books published in the past decade. Lauritsen doesn’t tell you what to think. He teaches you how to think.

On Legal AI Book)
AI for Lawyers (Book)
Not familiar with these two. They are now on my reading list.

Lawnext.com (Website)
Bob Ambrogi’s home on the web is a must-follow.

The Rest of Levy’s list:
Legal Evolution (Website)
The Artificial Lawyer (Website)
Legal Technology Hub (Website)
Legal.io (Website)

Levy’s Parting Shot: Pure Gold

Levy closes the post with this suggestion. It’s probably the single most important thing most lawyers can do to improve their productivity:

Experiment with tools you currently use, like some of the myriad of functions offered by Word and Excel (and others like PowerBI and PowerAutomate also within the Office 365 suite). Often you may be underutilizing the tools you already use.

Very pleased to see The Impact Lawyers reprint my review of Renee Knake Jefferson‘s excellent new book Law Democratized: A Blueprint for Solving the Justice Crisis.

Ms. Jefferson believes that artificial intelligence “has the potential to become the single most important tool in solving the legal justice crisis,” so on completing this review, I decided to ask ChatGPT 4.0 the question:

“What is the probability of significant improvements in access to civil legal services?”

I found ChatGPT’s summary answer mostly consistent with Jefferson’s conclusions—and hence encouraging. In any event, Ms. Jefferson has provided a public service by writing Law Democratized. It will surely increase the probability of meaningful reforms.

Here is the ChatGPT summary: 

The probability of significant improvements in access to justice for civil legal services depends on various factors, including policy changes, resource allocation, technological advancements, and societal attitudes toward legal aid. While it is difficult to assign a specific probability, several trends and initiatives may increase the likelihood of improvements:

  1. Policy Reforms: Legislative and regulatory changes aimed at expanding access to legal services, such as relaxing licensing requirements for non-traditional legal service providers, implementing funding programs for legal aid organizations, and establishing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, could lead to significant improvements.
  2. Technology: Advancements in technology, such as online legal resources, virtual legal clinics, and artificial intelligence-powered tools for document review and analysis, have the potential to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and reach underserved populations.
  3. Funding and Resources: Increased funding and resources allocated to legal aid organizations, pro bono initiatives, and civil legal assistance programs can enhance their capacity to provide services to low-income individuals and marginalized communities.
  4. Awareness and Education: Efforts to raise awareness about legal rights, options for legal assistance, and available resources can empower individuals to seek help when needed and navigate the legal system more effectively.
  5. Collaboration and Partnerships: Collaboration among legal aid organizations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, law firms, and community stakeholders can leverage resources, share best practices, and develop innovative solutions to address gaps in access to justice.
  6. Cultural and Systemic Changes: Addressing systemic barriers to access to justice, such as racial and socioeconomic disparities, language barriers, and biases within the legal system, can contribute to more equitable outcomes and improve access for marginalized communities.

I think the AI Law Librarians blog might grow on me. My favorite current post? Sarah Gotschall‘s article Move Over Law Professors? AI Likes to Write Law Review Articles Too! She gives an AI-generated law review article a passing grade.

Gotschall walks readers through the process of guiding an AI chatbot (“Claude“) through the process of developing an article. She provides the prompting practices she uses:

  1. Being polite and encouraging.
  2. Allowing ample time for the model to process information.
  3. Structuring inquiries in a sequential manner to enhance analysis and promote chain of thought reasoning.
  4. Supplying extensive, and sometimes seemingly excessive, background info and context.

Here’s an example of Gotschall’s approach to being polite and encouraging:

Great you’re really good at following instructions! You’re also really good at creating outlines of law review articles. Now that you understand the topic and thesis, please use the information uploaded in the article and generate a detailed outline for the law review. You can get an idea of how law review articles are written and organized by analyzing the law reviews in the files that I’ve uploaded.

Move Over Law Professors Article

Handling AI’s emotions will be a challenge for me!

H/T to Sabrina I. Pacifici for the link.