Estate planning lawyer Marie Stockton makes sure her clients not only can, but want to read important, potentially life-altering documents.
Marie Stockton is an estate planning lawyer based in San Diego. Before becoming a lawyer, Stockton worked...
Adriana Linares is a law practice consultant and legal technology coach. After several years at two of...
Guest Marie Stockton is an estate planning lawyer laser-focused on making sure her clients understand what they’re signing. She’s mastering document prep tools to assure they have the look and feel that encourages reading and comprehension.
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Intro: So if I was starting today as a new solo, I would do something — the entrepreneurial — you have to communicate that and figure out what your new plan is — we have to change the way they’re practicing — wish that they’ve done it earlier — do that by organize — what it means to be fulfilled — make it easy to work with — becoming a leader — new approach, new tools, new mindset, new solo — and it’s making that leap.
Adriana Linares: Hi everyone, welcome to another episode of New Solo on the Legal Talk Network. I am your host Adriana Linares. If you are new here, you might not know that I am a legal technology trainer and consultant. I spend my time helping lawyers use technology better and I am really excited, as I always am, with every guest who will take the time out of their busy schedule to speak with me, to have Marie Stockton on today. And I invited Marie on because she is an inspiration, which is what I often try to do with the guests, find inspiring legal professionals. But Marie is an actual lawyer, who practices very hard and I know because Marie and I work a lot together.
Marie, do you want to tell everyone a little bit about your practice and where you are and how big or small your firm is before we dive in?
Marie Stockton: Sure, really quickly at least how it relates to you. I went solo, I guess is how you would describe it, back in 2012, so getting up to 10 years ago now. I was a WordPerfect user. There are maybe three or four of us left on the planet.
Adriana Linares: And Marie, before you go on let me just explain for maybe some of our younger users who have never heard of WordPerfect. WordPerfect was the chosen Word processor of most businesses, but especially of law firms before Word came along.
Marie Stockton: And so I do estate planning and made a transition from litigation to transactional work and discovered that transactional attorneys have great forms at their disposal and so I started building those forms in WordPerfect because I wanted to heavily format them to encourage people to read them, actually read them. And we have all had that experience where we look at a document full of legalese and our eyes just glaze over and we do not read it and we just sign it to save ourselves the pain and that may or may not come back to haunt us later. We just do the Hail Mary cross over the chest and hope that it’s going to be okay.
And that’s not how I roll. I want my estate planning clients to read the document over carefully, the drafts and the final versions and so I spent a lot of time designing forms that would encourage them to be read.
I can’t guarantee it, but encouraging readability, I got really technical with fonts and whitespace and all of that, which I had the ability to do myself in WordPerfect with the infamous Reveal Codes, back door view, if you will. And then WordPerfect, my best friend, became my worst enemy and no one else could use it with me and everyone else was using Word and I fought long and hard along with the period with the two spaces. I mean I am old and I started off on typewriters so change is hard for me.
I really made several runs at learning Word and did not graduate from any of those courses. And then I found you and my life changed truly. And the way that we did it, you got my hands on it, it wasn’t sitting in a class and then learning all these things that you may or may not use down the line. If you can remember them, we took some real world documents that I was trying to convert and we did video sessions. And patience is your virtue, among many others, and we spent a lot of time doing that until it finally stuck in my brain.
So that’s kind of the backstory. Having control over the documents is the reason — I guess that’s what you asked me about initially was so that I can go in and — I am a control freak and if I want to change something quickly on the fly, I don’t want to rely on anybody else, if it’s something I can do myself. And so I had to learn it for self-preservation and you were a great teacher. So here we are.
Adriana Linares: Let me explain that too because obviously I have — you didn’t find me on the internet like a lot of my private clients do and say, hey, I need Microsoft Word sessions. You and I met because I work part-time for the San Diego County Bar Association where I am the Technology and Practice Management Advisor and what happens with that arrangement is the Bar pays me and then the members of the Bar are able to make appointments with me to talk about and get help with whatever they need as far as practice management and technology goes.
So of course I get calls on, how do I go to the cloud? Do I need Office 365? How do I show Reveal Codes in Microsoft Word? And you and I started working together, we are in 2021, we know we haven’t seen each other in person in at least a year, and before that I would say it was probably two years ago do you think Marie that we had our first appointment?
Marie Stockton: Yeah, I am guessing it’s been that long.
Adriana Linares: So what I want to point out is this isn’t something that you accomplished overnight. You started with me and we do 45-minute sessions at a time. So we did baby sessions. And I think you may have come when we were meeting in person to a couple of the group sessions that I did, or at least one. So we do a webinar during lunch or an in person and also webinar during lunch and you came and sort of learned the basics. And I do a very specific session called Life after Reveal Codes and I imagine that’s the one that you came to, where I try to help attorneys who are former WordPerfect users and there are more of you than you think out there.
Marie Stockton: I don’t know the secret club code.
Adriana Linares: There is no meet up group for it, but you guys are out there. It can be a hard transition but it’s certainly not impossible. It’s just, you really do need someone who is familiar with legal to be able to say okay, in your pleadings, when you wanted to see something in WordPerfect, you would do this, and in Word here is how it looks. Or I guess, they don’t have to really be familiar with legal, just have to understand how to communicate with lawyers.
So back to you, you started with I think a group session and then, I think almost monthly, if not twice a month, you were making appointments with me, because they are unlimited through the Bar Association and we slowly chipped away, chipped away, chipped away at teaching you how to really, really master the look and feel of your documents.
But before you were able to get to the point of the look and feel, which I do want to spend a few minutes talking about because you have done some pretty cool and unusual things, you really just learned the basics, right? You learned how Word shows you where the codes are, which Word doesn’t have necessarily Reveal Codes, it just sort of shows you on the screen and it has the taskbar along the top that will indicate what sorts of formatting is turned on and off.
So question for you is Marie, how long do you think it took for that initial light bulb to go off where you started to say, oh, I think I am getting it and I see how Word architects a document?
Marie Stockton: That’s a good question. It’s been a while, so I have to qualify the answer with, this was sort of a labor of love that I would drag out. As I mentioned, I am a recovering litigator and I was still litigating at the time and so this master document set was just something that I would work on whenever I could. So our sessions were when I was — like I had some breaks.-
Adriana Linares: In a lull? Yeah.
Marie Stockton: Yeah. So we would do two or three in a row, really get my hands on it and start doing things over and over until I could fly on my own out of the nest. But then there would be these long gaps where I couldn’t pay attention and then I would have to come back and you would have to sort of show me again, which was frustrating for an adult who feels like they are back with the training wheels on.
Adriana Linares: But you never gave up.
Marie Stockton: It comes back faster.
Adriana Linares: Yeah. And you had good notes. I remember you would always say, oh yeah, it’s right here in my notes, and we recorded all your sessions and I think you would go back and actually watch them every once in a while and be reminded. I think you also, because you did surprise me a few times with new things that you had done or discovered, I think you also did a little research on your own. Were you watching YouTube videos or anything like that?
Marie Stockton: Yeah, I did. And I found good ones, but you had to also filter through a lot of unhelpful stuff that is designed for a class, where you get a little Word certificate at the end or whatever, but that’s not what my goal was. My goal was to get this document looking nice so that someone can come in tomorrow and sign it.
Adriana Linares: Well, I was always very impressed with your tenacity and your curiosity and also your drive for going to get that outside extra knowledge and coming back to me. When we come back from a quick break with Clio, let’s talk about your design and look and feel, because I think I hinted a few minutes ago that you did some pretty unique things.
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Adriana Linares: Okay. And we are back. I am talking to Marie Stockton. She is an estate planning attorney in San Diego, who has been in the past 20 years of my training Word users my best student ever in Microsoft Word.
Marie, you said in our first segment you really wanted to encourage your clients to read the documents. So you wanted a beautifully designed document. Where did you get the inspiration for that or why was that a thing that became important to you, because I am pretty sure that in law school, they didn’t say to you, and by the way, you should really put a lot of thought behind the design of your documents to encourage people to read them, where did you get that from?
Marie Stockton: I think it was just the real world and my own personal experience, like we were talking about, and being presented with something important that you should read and not having it in you to sit there and read it. As the attorney, I want to make sure that I have got my client’s estate plan memorialized correctly. And the way that that happens is I listen to them tell me what they want. I document it. They read it. And then if I did my job correctly, then they sign it. But if I made a mistake, hopeful they are going to catch it when they read it, but the key event is that they have to read it.
Adriana Linares: You wanted to make sure not only was it well-formatted, which of course they don’t see — it’s kind of like walking into the house, you don’t see the construction workers building the house, you just walk in and the house is beautiful and you love it and you don’t really know what went into building it. So on top of all the work you did to architect and actually construct your documents, from the visual perspective, you are very picky about your fonts. Do you want to talk about your fonts? You don’t have to disclose which font you use, let’s keep that one in the bag, but you studied fonts and you found fonts that you thought were beautiful and your clients would enjoy reviewing.
Marie Stockton: Yeah. I guess it’s not art, I am not going to pretend it’s art, but I think I heard somewhere that Steve Jobs was very much into fonts. He studied fonts in college or something. So they are small, but important — very, very important things that you don’t notice but that can make a difference in readability.
So there is an attorney who is also a typographer named Matthew Butterick and I think he might be in the LA area, but he wrote a book about that. I can’t remember the name of it, but if you google Matthew Butterick, you will find him and his work. And I think he keeps designing fonts in his spare time and he does a little newsletter and stuff. But he was an initial resource that got me thinking about it.
People up in the Bay Area that do — I forgot their name, Duarte maybe that did the Slide:ology stuff to do PowerPoint. And that was the thing that hooked me with Word is there is all this compatibility with Excel and PowerPoint and stuff, which that’s our next frontier, you and I.
Adriana Linares: Ooh, that sounds fun. So let me help a little bit. That book is called ‘Typography for Lawyers’. Matthew Butterick wrote it I want to say it was like 15 years ago I think, and when it came out everybody was like, oh my God, what? This is crazy talk.
If I remember correctly, which I actually have the book somewhere around here, he was a designer and a fontaphile, loved fonts and then became a lawyer and was just mortified when he would look at legal documents and his options for fonts and really believed what you believe, which is beautiful fonts either — or the right font create and evoke emotion in people.
And this is an example I always use more when I am talking about PowerPoint than Word is if you are designing a PowerPoint presentation and you want to inspire teamwork and inspiration for collaboration, you might pick a font that reminds people of a college jersey, of a football jersey that has that sort of fat font that invokes that memory of what a team jersey would look like.
If you are a school teacher and you are creating a PowerPoint for your students, then you might choose Comic Sans, because it’s drawn into crayon and it’s fun.
And if you think about fonts like the Coca Cola font; I just said Coca Cola and every single listener knows exactly what that looks like, because we all know what the Coca Cola font looks like.
So his goal with the book was to really also inspire lawyers to design their documents in a way that would make them really help push the emotions through the documents for what they are trying to persuade someone to believe in. A lot of his examples are here is a before and after of a pleading or a brief and what it looks like in front of a judge’s eye.
So yeah, he is really great. I still get his newsletter and I hope everyone goes out there and googles Matthew Butterick. And he has fonts that he has designed and he sells, just like you can go out to www.fonts.com and buy fonts.
Let’s take another quick break now that we’ve talked about design and development and the beauty of the documents. And when we come back, I want to ask you maybe the two or three most important things that you felt you learned. I mean I can come up with my three if you can come up with your three of what some of those things were in becoming a pretty advanced Word user.
We will be right back.
All right, it’s time for Melanie’s next question for Starlett, which I am very excited about. And I want to make sure and thank Nota by M&T Bank for their support for this segment. To learn more, visit trustnota.com. Terms and conditions may apply.
Melanie Kalmanson: A lot of people will talk about things that they would like to see different in the legal profession or things that they wish they would have known going into the profession out of law school. What are three things that you would like to see change in the legal profession?
Starlett Massey: I have some pretty specific opinions on that. I would like to see the Florida Bar adopt more comprehensive rules governing the professional conduct of attorneys to specifically protect lawyers, especially within their own firm, from discrimination and harassment based on any minority or marginalized status, whether it’s genre, raise, abilities. I think that as written, the rules do not do enough to provide for any mechanism. There is no mechanism available to somebody who suffers discrimination or harassment within their own firm. And I think it’s time for that to change. And when the rules become more protective of everyone, then I think that we will see more women and minorities staying in the practice of law and succeeding and rising up the ranks to become partners or own their own firms. We need to provide protection first.
And I hope that as the movement with George Floyd’s murder and people becoming a lot more aware of diversity and inclusion and equity issues especially in the last year that the Florida Bar leadership will pay attention and start moving in the right direction.
The second thing that I would like to see change in the legal profession is I would like to see the sections adopt and implement real measures to increase diversity within their ranks and ensure inclusion. I think there is a lot of work that can be done by the sections that maybe the individual committees don’t have the power to do.
For example, I serve on the statewide Committee for Diversity & Inclusion for the Florida Bar and I think that with the sections embracing the idea, we could implement real measures and real change to ensure that historically marginalized members of the Bar are aware of sections, have the opportunity to participate and have an opportunity for real inclusion because that section work is really where young lawyers can become involved with the Florida Bar and appreciate what voluntary Bar Association work will bring to their career.
And finally, another change that I would like to see in the practice of law, understand that I work a lot in business disputes, commercial litigation and I have seen the success that the collaborative divorce process has had in family law and I wonder if we couldn’t get enough commercial litigators on board to encourage some kind of collaborative process in the commercial side.
So many times businesses are small or closely held or the owners have been together so long, it feels like family, and a lot of times the big hang-ups on resolving those disputes aren’t about money, it’s personal. And because of that emotional involvement that can make — it really can ruin people’s lives when they have a business dispute going south, especially in the smaller businesses, having a mental health person in there as well as the forensic accountant could save everybody a lot of time and money. And I think it would be interesting, maybe not just in the areas that I practice in, but in other areas to explore the feasibility of the collaborative process in other practice areas.
Adriana Linares: I always love hearing these questions from attorneys to another attorney. Thanks so much Melanie and Starlett; that was your third out of four questions. So listeners, make sure you catch up with us next month for Melanie’s final question.
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Okay, we are back. I am talking to Marie Stockton, my star Microsoft Word student. I asked Marie to come on because I wanted her to inspire other attorneys to take the time to really become masters of Microsoft Word because this is where you spend most of your day, and many of you struggle, like really, really struggle with Word and there are just a lot of simple things that you can learn. But Marie has learned a lot of advanced things because of her desire to really be able to control her documents, edit her documents and send out beautiful documents.
So Marie, I wanted to ask you, what is one of your — I am going to ask you for three, but let’s go your turn, my turn, let’s take turns, because I have got some I want to add too. What do you think is one of the most important things that you learned about Word that has made your life a little bit easier in designing these beautiful documents?
Marie Stockton: Well, I think probably the first thing that we started working on together which was something that wasn’t really in WordPerfect that I had to learn new in Word was styles, and I kept hearing about styles in these YouTube videos, but what a style was and how you created it and manipulated it was — it just eluded me. It was like a unicorn that would run by.
I remember us spending a lot of time, you explaining to me styles and how they work. And again, I was looking more at the visual and product, but what ended up happening as a huge bonus was that styles is a way to be more efficient. And so when you create styles and plus, put your own imprint on a document, to the point where my goal is for a document to sit on a desk amongst others and you can say, ooh, that one is hers just by looking at it, without even reading it. And so that was one thing that we spent a lot of time on with great benefit was styles in Word.
Adriana Linares: Yeah. It’s definitely one of the most elusive elements of Word and I will just say two quick things about it. One is WordPerfect always had them. They were called Quick Styles, but nobody ever used them. And to very quickly summarize what a style is. It’s an easy button for collecting font and paragraph formatting into one button. So every time you want a double-indented quote, you design, redesign or recreate a style for a double-indented quote so that you can click a button and all of the double-indented quotes look exactly the same throughout the document. So styles make formatting easy and consistent.
I will give one of my tips, if you are going to use a special font or a font that isn’t on every computer on the planet, like Marie does, or if you are going to choose to buy a special font, which it’s funny because it’s always estate planning attorneys that like funky fonts. I always had this firm down in Boca that loved Century Schoolbook. All their documents were in Century Schoolbook.
If you are concerned that someone is not going to have that font and you don’t necessarily want to send it as a PDF because maybe you want them to edit the documents themselves, there is a very easy couple of steps you can do in Word to embed the fonts so that they travel with the document. So you can always google that if that’s something that you feel like you need to do, but it’s really just like three clicks.
Marie, what else was super helpful aside from styles, which I think is really — that’s the heart of Word is understanding how styles work, so congratulations on that.
Marie Stockton: Thanks. I am still your protégé. I have not mastered it, but I know more than I started with, that’s for sure.
Probably automatic numbering and paragraph numbering was another mountain that we climbed together, because once we kind of had the bones of the house, the framing done, then I wanted the ability to be able to pull paragraphs, insert paragraphs or sections and have all the numbering change, which had a huge bonus of accuracy.
Adriana Linares: Yeah. I would definitely say, that’s another big mountain to climb. You are right. And aside from just getting the bullets and the numbering and the complex numbering as I call it, which is critical, also, you mentioned sections and page breaks are important in creating what I refer to as complex page numbering, where you have got Roman numerals on the table of contents. If there is a table of authorities, Roman numerals and then Arabic numbers on the body of the document, and then if there were exhibits, like in a pleading, you would have maybe A-1. So understanding how to do that stuff, which look, it’s not hard, right, we are not — we didn’t shoot ourselves into the edge of space in learning to do this, but it does just take some time and some patience. So I would say that would be my next tip is understanding sections and page numbers.
What else was a lot of help to you?
Marie Stockton: I think probably next we jumped into headers and footers and understanding how to manipulate those, especially with first pages being different and succeeding pages. All the dominoes started falling once you gave me powers and I wanted to exercise them and we did.
Adriana Linares: And for the record, I never touched your documents. You did everything. I just watched over your shoulder but you sat there and you banged away and learned all those skills yourself, so it’s pretty awesome. And your documents are beautiful and they are long documents and your page numbering is always right, your numbering is right, your cross-references work.
Marie Stockton: Table of contents.
Adriana Linares: Those table of contents are automatically generated. I mean it’s amazing. So thank you Marie. Lawyers like you make my job an absolute pleasure. It’s really fun and still today, I think we just had a session last month when you said oh, blowing off the cobwebs, got to do a little work in the attic for this baby. And you came back and saw me and it’s really a pleasure and I really, really appreciate you taking the time. You are moving back to your brick and mortar office after — the light at the end of the tunnel has started to open post-pandemic so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and hopefully inspire lawyers.
If you could give me a closing inspirational thought Marie for other attorneys to take the time to learn Word, it would be awesome.
Marie Linares: Just find a good teacher like I did. Somebody that will get your hands on it yourself, that can guide you and that’s patient and super smart, and I am talking to that person. And if Adriana is too busy, try to find somebody else like her, because she knows what she is doing and she is patient and she is kind and she is fun and I am very, very grateful, so happy to spend more time with you doing this.
Adriana Linares: Well, I will just wait for that new appointment to come in from you. I will throw out a couple of great resources out there in the legal tech world. Deborah Savadra. She is a Legal Guru, Office Legal Guru I think. Anyway, you can google her. And Barron Henley over at Affinity Consulting and Mark Unger are a couple of other great consultants and trainers. If you don’t like me, you can certainly find someone out there that do what I do, if not as good as I do, definitely better. They are wonderful.
So we are out there, and on top of that of course there is YouTube and Lynda. They don’t necessarily come at you if you are going to go to an open source like that with legal specific, but it’s all there. There is nothing hidden. Everyone’s got all kinds of great training sessions and videos and courses out there. So I do really encourage every attorney to take the time and learn how to use Word. It’s your tool you use for your craft and it’s so important. And I really hate seeing attorneys struggle with it, which I will tell you, 20 something years later I still see attorneys; young, new, retired, recovering, fresh out of law school, struggling with your most critical tools. So I hope this conversation with wonderful Marie has inspired everyone to become better Word users.
Thanks Marie. If anyone wants to find, friend, follow you or just say, oh my God, inspire me to learn this crap, how can they get a hold of you Marie?
Marie Stockton: stocktonestateplanning.com is my website. [email protected] is my email.
Adriana Linares: And if anyone is looking for an estate planning attorney in Southern California, there you are, one of the best with beautiful documents.
Marie Stockton: Thanks Adriana.
Adriana Stockton: Thank you Marie.
Adriana Linares: All right everyone, we have reached the end of another fun episode of New Solo on Legal Talk Network. If you liked what you have heard today, please leave us a good rating on iTunes. And don’t forget, you can always find, friend or follow me at lawtechpartners.com.
Hope you all have a wonderful, wonderful rest of your day and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of New Solo.
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|Published:||July 29, 2021|
|Category:||Legal Support , Practice Management|
New Solo covers a diverse range of topics including transitioning from law firm to solo practice, law practice management, and more.