How Lawyers Work: Shelby Ward, Environmental Lawyer and Design Thinker

In this week’s edition of How Lawyers Work, we talked to Shelby Ward. Shelby is a staff attorney for the Tennessee Clean Water Network. She has also worked as an aquatic ecologist. She is co-founder of the annual Appalachian Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Knoxville and serves on the Knoxville Chapter National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental and Climate Justice Committee.

You can follow Shelby on LinkedIn and Twitter

What apps or tools are essential to your daily workflow?

  • I write my weekly priorities on my office whiteboard and I refer back to it daily. I create a monthly docket to communicate with my office and set priorities at the beginning of each month.
  • My dual monitors help me read and work more efficiently. I bring my MacBook Pro to work as well.
  • I created an organization system for the files on my computer with uniform file and folder names. With the system, I can find information easily.
  • I still enjoy using paper trial notebooks. Bindertek has a great selection of trial notebooks designed for lawyers.
  • I use journals for notetaking.
  • My organization is launching a new website on Earth Day and I used Wix to build it.
  • I use Microsoft Suite for email, calendar, and select file storage.

What does your workspace look like?

The look and feel of my interior spaces have always been important to me. When I feel my immediate space is defined with purpose, my inner thoughts can be more focused and at peace. All my interior spaces have a concept. To create a design concept, I start with an inspiration piece and build the concept around it.

For my office, I chose a photograph of a lamp outside of a traditional house in Varanasi, India by Keren Su. The photograph has teal, turqoiuse, copper, and other earthy tones. I designed my office space to include furniture, art, and other elements that echo my inspiration piece’s colors and overall feel.

In my work area, I have an L desk where I can use my digital devices on one side and use my “analog” tools on the other. I also have spaces for my creative tools that I use for mind-mapping and my Lego bricks for building features relevant to my cases. I round out the office space with other items that spark joy including personal photos and mementos.

How do you keep track of your calendars/deadlines?

I use Outlook calendar for all my events. I make case-specific deadline tables that I store in my trial notebooks. I have a special datebook with deadlines for all cases. I also use a paper date wheel to double check deadlines.

What’s your coffee service setup? (Other beverages are fine, of course, but you should really be serving coffee!)

I am a tea drinker (but my office has a coffee pot). We have a kitchenette area with a hot water pot and tea. I keep my special kitten tea mug on my desk. It has a tea bag holder, so I can reuse tea bags.

What is one thing that you listen to/read/watch that everyone should?

I have to pick just one thing? For readings, I recommend the following:

  • For those looking for inspiration on strategic litigation and organizing: Read  Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation by Rawn James. James’ work describes how Houston and Marshall’s work led to landmark legal outcomes. It is empowering to see how incremental change using the law happens.
  • For any lawyer that cares about the overall look and feel of what she drafts, read Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick.
  • For lawyer culture nerds, subscribe to Green Bag. I am an extravagant Green Bag subscriber. Green Bag periodicals provide examples of exemplary legal writing and, overall, Green Bag subscribers constitute a community passionate about lawyer culture.
  • For nonprofit in-house lawyers, I recommend Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits by Lesley Rosenthal. It provides great insights and work plans for lawyers serving nonprofits.

And, of course, everyone should listen to the Lawyerist Podcast.

What’s your favorite local place to network or work solo?

For networking, I enjoy one-to-one lunches with members of my local bar association and other like-minded people in downtown Knoxville’s Market Square. When I need to remove myself from distractions in the workplace, I work at a nearby Starbucks.

What are three things you do without fail every day?

I visit my email inboxes too much. I try to look at it at select times each day to focus on what I should instead of what I get an email about.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?

A retrospective on notable lawyers/jurists like Justice Cardozo.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Larry Burks Sr. says:

    Exceptional interview and comments from a young lawyer who has a bright future. Thoroughly enjoyed this reading.

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