Category Archives: The Ethical Lawyer – Legal Ethics Blog

Co-Presenting Ethics CLE Session, on Sineneng-Smith Case, at 2020 Upper Midwest Immigration Law Virtual Conference, Friday, May 29

The State of Minnesota is about to complete its second week of transitioning from a stay-at-home order to a stay-safe order. More businesses can start to re-open to the public, with certain restrictions, as early as June 1 in the midst of COVID-19.

At the same time, protests over the death of George Floyd on Monday — while he was in Minneapolis Police custody — evolved into riots, looting and arson in the Minneapolis-St. Paul (Twin Cities) area this week. 

In times of chaos and uncertainty, it can be hard to stay grounded, maintain calm, move forward, and appreciate the now. But being fully present is what we must do to keep our center when there is much to fear and grieve. 

Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, writes: “The state of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment is our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.”

Many businesses, including law firms, are operating remotely in some or all aspects during the pandemic. Although various events and conferences were canceled or postponed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, others are continuing as planned, but virtually. 

On Friday, May 29, from 8 am to 5 pm, the 2020 Upper Midwest Immigration Law Conference will be presented via Zoom, instead of through the in-person event in Downtown Minneapolis that was originally planned. Organized by the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and The Advocates for Human Rights for the Upper Midwest, this year’s virtual conference sessions will provide critical practice updates and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit to immigration attorneys.

This full-day, multi-track virtual CLE will give registered participants access to up to 6 live credit hours and to all sessions on-demand. Attendees may choose sessions individually among four different tracks — Employment, Humanitarian, Litigation and Fundamentals — and are not tied to any one category. 

I am scheduled to co-present with attorneys Alan Goldfarb and Eric Cooperstein at Session 4: “Ethics in Light of the Sineneng-Smith Case” (Employment track) from 2:15 to 3:15 pm. 

On May 7, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 9-0 opinion in this case, which makes immigration lawyers vulnerable to being prosecuted for rendering candid advice to clients who are not in lawful status within the United States. 

Evelyn Sineneng-Smith was convicted of violating 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), which imposes criminal penalties on any person who encourages or induces a person to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, in violation of the law. It does not distinguish between criminal offenses and immigration (civil) violations. 

Sineneng-Smith was an immigration consultant in San Jose, California. She assisted clients working without authorization in the United States to file applications for a labor certification program that once provided a path to adjust to lawful permanent resident status. She knew her clients could not meet the statutory application-filing deadline, but still charged each client over $6,000, netting more than $3.3 million.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) is unconstitutionally overbroad. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court held the Ninth Circuit abused its discretion when it decided this question because it was never raised by the defendant. The Court noted that instead of reviewing the case presented by the parties, the Ninth Circuit invited amici to brief and argue issues framed by the panel, including  “[W]hether the statute of conviction is overbroad . . . under the First Amendment.”

By vacating the decision and remanding the case to the Ninth Circuit, on procedural grounds, the U.S. Supreme Court did not address whether the statute is unconstitutional. This leaves lawyers with ethical dilemmas involving their duty to provide competent representation to clients and their duty to avoid the commission of a federal crime under the encouragement and inducement provision. The session on the Sineneng-Smith case will cover ethics concerns for immigration lawyers in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. 

For a description of the 2020 Upper Midwest Immigration Law Conference program, click here. Although the Early-Bird registration ($75 fee) ended on May 8, you can still register for the full price ($100 fee) up to May 29. To sign up, go to

The Sineneng-Smith adds another layer of concern not just for attorneys, but also for persons who need candid advice on their options to gain, extend or change their U.S. immigration status. 

Stay well, stay connected,

Dyan Williams
Immigration & Legal Ethics Attorney 
Dyan Williams Law PLLC

Author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps

The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps (ebook is out!)

As we move ahead into Mother’s Day weekend, another month of the global pandemic, and the 6th week of a stay-at-home order in my home state, Minnesota, I’m glad to say I started and finished writing my book.

The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps is now out in ebook format. This includes PDF (for computers), EPUB (for phones and tablets) and MOBI (for Kindle). You can take a look inside and read sample pages at

I wrote the book within a month by working incrementally on it sentence by sentence, page by page, and chapter by chapter, and building on pre-existing content in prior writings. I chipped away at it in limited but focused time blocks, on the edges of core work activities and daily responsibilities.

This creative project pulled me through feelings of stuckness during the last few weeks. As I made my way through it, I was constantly reminded there is healing in grief, possibility in uncertainty, and progress in chaos.

Even though my business and law practice continue to thrive, the world is different. The changes have required logistical shifts, a different mindset, acceptance of what is, and openness to whatever unfolds.

Even when little seems to be going according to plan and much is outside your control, it’s still essential to get your priorities straight, decide on next action steps, and correct course when you veer off track.

In the book, I explain how to become an INCREMENTALIST to create big results, in small steps, without pushing yourself too far beyond your comfort zone, burning out, and feeling inadequate. You can do great work and stretch your limits, gradually and slowly. Incremental progress helps you gain control, master your craft, and seamlessly integrate all that matters to you.

If you’re having trouble gaining traction on a major project or making a significant change in your life, consider reading The Incrementalist and practicing the 5 principles described in the book.

If you like the book or wish to recommend it to friends, family members, colleagues or anyone else who might find it helpful, please share the link at

When you buy the book on Leanpub, you get free updates of any revised versions I publish on that platform. It doesn’t matter when you bought the book or how much you paid.

There is a 45-day 100% happiness guarantee. This means you can get a 100% refund within 45 days of purchase through Leanpub. I won’t know who buys my book or who requests refunds because purchases are made through the Leanpub platform. But if you’d like to send me questions and comments directly, you can do so!

Whether you’re a current client, a former client, a subscriber to one of my e-newsletters, or a reader of any of my blogs, I thank you for your support.

If you read The Incrementalist, let me know the top three things you found most useful and the top three things you’d like me to explain better in the book. I can’t promise I’ll address every question or comment, but I’ll aim to read each one.

In the midst of challenging and uncertain times, you can still create big results in small steps by becoming an Incrementalist!

To your ongoing progress,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
 Abraham Lincoln

Maintaining Momentum During a Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions have sparked major changes in just a few weeks. The United States is now deemed the epicenter of the pandemic. More people in my community are now wearing plastic gloves and face masks when they venture out to the grocery store. Daily life is being upended and more businesses have switched to remote work to protect public health and comply with government mandates.

On April 8, in the State of Minnesota, Governor Tim Waltz extended the stay-at-home order through May 4, which restricts people from leaving their homes except for essential activities. Other U.S. states and countries around the world have curfews, self-quarantining directives, and lockdowns of varying degrees. These measures aim to slow the spread of the virus, but they also bring logistical and economic consequences.

As the situation continues to unfold, remote work is being encouraged or required in both small businesses and large organizations. This is a viable alternative if you’re a knowledge worker who can effectively do tasks and complete projects from home. But if remote work amounts to a sudden shift brought on by forces beyond your control, you will likely struggle to stay focused and productive even if you’re otherwise a peak performer.

While I am not new to remote work because I’ve done it successfully for many years, the impact of the changes is not lost on me. At the most basic level, I’ve had to adjust to having my husband working from home and my older child being home-schooled while I continue to operate my business from my home office. There is more of a blending between work and home life, which calls for doubling down on routines, structures and boundaries.

Many of my clients in U.S. immigration and visa matters have been affected by the suspension of routine services at U.S. Embassies and USCIS offices, triggered by COVID-19. While some U.S. immigration agencies continue to function, the temporary closures and travel restrictions have a profound effect on my clientele.

Although I cannot say when exactly things will go back to or close to “normal,” we know these measures are temporary and will lift at some point in the future.

If you’re a client in my U.S. immigration practice, I thank you for your trust, patience and positivity. I’m behind on some target completion dates, and this is by no means due to procrastination or lack of diligence. But like many others, I’m making progress at a slower pace.

If you’re an attorney or other knowledge worker who can perform duties remotely, I assure you this setup has tremendous advantages. If you’re just starting out with remote work, it might be overwhelming for you, even after all your cybersecurity, document management, online communications, and other systems are installed.

For techniques on how to overcome the 3 big obstacles to thriving in remote work, I encourage you to read my newest articles on my productivity blog:

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 1 – Asynchronous Communication

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 2 – Blurred Lines

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 3 – Competing Priorities

In the midst of a global pandemic that brings restlenesses and unpredictability, we can continue to set the wheels in motion, take steps forward, and maintain momentum to reach desired results. Look for the silver linings because they are there. You just need to notice them.

As with any other crisis, this too will pass and, in the meantime, you can turn this huge obstacle into a unique opportunity.

Stay well. Stay healthy. Stay connected.

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 3 – Competing Priorities

When you’re working from home, there is no commute, no officemate and no dress code. Personal responsibilities are harder to put aside when you’re not in an office away from your home life. Without deliberate planning, remote work can make it difficult to distinguish between your personal to-dos and professional priorities. 

In parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part article, respectively, I discussed Asynchronous Communication as the first obstacle and Blurred Lines as the second obstacle to thriving in remote work. 

The third obstacle to overcome is Competing Priorities. Spending time with your family, playing with your children, getting groceries, walking the dog, and doing laundry are not really distractions. They are competing priorities.

Even if you’re lucky enough to work from home and get paid in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic or any other crisis, you need to be practical. Don’t expect to be on top of your game when there is much uncertainty and disruption. To set realistic expectations, you might need to inform your boss, colleagues and clients about the obstacles you face. Explain what you’re doing to still meet commitments, but perhaps at a slower pace.

As I write this article, schools remain closed across the United States and other parts of the world when summer break has yet to begin. Restless children who have no school, sports or extracurricular activities are relying more on their parents for ongoing education and entertainment.

In any remote work situation, you need to give yourself structure, but incorporate flexibility and margin. Instead of multitasking and doing busy work for 8 hours, shoot for 4 to 6 hours of focused work, which is a normal maximum for true productivity.

Track how you use your time and compare it with what you had planned to do. This will help you figure out how and when you veered off course and what you can do better the next time. Cut yourself some slack if you didn’t get to check off all your to-dos. Maybe your list was too long to begin with.

You might need to work in short bursts, like 15 to 30 minutes, on a daily basis over one week, when you don’t have a large chunk of time to complete the project in one day. For instance, I used the Pomodoro Technique — in which you break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks — to complete this 3-part article over a two-week period.

Designate time blocks to perform certain activities. In a normal work day from home, I use the mornings for focused work and scheduled calls, typically before the kids wake up. I spend my lunch break to eat and play with them. Then I use my younger kid’s naptime and my older kid’s solo activity time to complete a second round of focused work and scheduled calls.

There are no hard and fast rules to maximize personal productivity. Have you heard that many of the most successful people in the world wake up at 5 am? Before you join the club, consider your own circadian rhythm. This is an internal timing device that controls when you are most alert and when you are most tired. It is your brain’s sleep-wake cycle in a 24-hour period that determines your natural wake up time and bedtime. 

In his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, author Daniel Pink notes there are three chronotype categories: Early-riser Lark; late-night Owl, and in-between Third Bird. If you’re naturally a night owl, don’t try to reset your circadian rhythm by forcing yourself to go to bed early so you can wake up at 5 am. An early wake-up time works well for natural early risers or for third birds who can more readily shift their sleep cycle through deliberate habits.

Work with your natural rhythm and synch the right tasks with your energy level and time of day. You also need to block time to stay focused on a single, high-cognitive task or to batch process similar, low-cognitive tasks to make progress and meet milestones.

Taking deliberate breaks is critical, particularly in remote work when there are no clear lines between work and the rest of your life. Your ultradian rhythm — which is the wake-rest-activity cycle that repeats throughout a 24-hour day — makes it counterproductive to work for hours on end.

Consider there are alternating periods of high-frequency brain activity (roughly 90 minutes) followed by lower-frequency brain activity (approximately 20 minutes). Take a 20-minute break for every 90 minutes of work to take advantage of the daily ultradian rhythm cycle.

For some, doing chores while working from home interferes with focus and productivity. But if you’re like me, mundane chores like folding clothes and doing the dishes can be a helpful respite from focused work. They can also foster mind-wandering for idea generation and mindfulness for stress relief.

Other ways to take a restful break include mediating, listening to music, observing nature, going for a walk, stretching, and soaking in sunlight.

Avoid time sucks like social media, emails and online news when your focus is at its peak and you have deep work to do. Turning off auto-alerts and notifications makes it easier to get real work done.

Practice morning rituals to jump start your day and evening rituals to wind down before bedtime. Have a start-up routine to begin work and a shut-down process to end work.

Before you begin, you could review your big three tasks or your single priority that must get your attention.

Track how you use your time and compare it with what you had planned to do. This will help you figure out how and when you veered off course and what you can do better the next time. Cut yourself some slack if you didn’t get to check off all your to-dos. Maybe your list was too long to begin with.

At the end of the day, review what you accomplished and celebrate the wins, no matter how small. Focus on the output, not on how many hours you spent at work. Four hours of solid deliverables is worth more than 8 hours of subpar work.

Share your schedule with your family or whoever lives with you. If you’re going to be on a telephone call for 15 minutes or an hour, tell your kids and let them know you’ll engage in a fun activity with them afterwards. A small reward for exercising patience goes a long way. And if you have a spouse, partner or other adult at home, enlist their help to divide and conquer competing priorities.

With remote work, you can integrate your work and life and design your day with autonomy. Whether you keep a strict schedule that mirrors traditional office hours really depends on what works for you. Your personal circumstances and preferences might lead you to design something different to thrive in remote work.

                                                               *  * *

For more information on overcoming obstacles to thriving in remote work, read part 1 (Asynchronous Communication) and part 2 (Blurred Lines) of this multipart article.

# # #

Dyan Williams is a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and make time for what truly matters. She is also a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC from her home office. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps, an e-book at

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 2 – Blurred Lines

To survive and thrive as a remote worker, you need to know how to overcome the obstacles and reframe them as benefits. When you are faced with a crisis — such as the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions — the ability to shift your mindset becomes even more critical.

As Ryan Holiday writes in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, an effective path to dealing with a crisis is to turn adversity into an advantage, a trial into a triumph, and an obstacle into an opportunity.

In part 1 of this 3-part article, I discussed Asynchronous Communication as the first obstacle to thriving in remote work.

The second obstacle to overcome is Blurred Lines. Commuting to and from an office provides transitions that you do not have with remote work. When the commute goes away, there is no physical switch to know when the work day starts and when it ends. You also might not have a dedicated room or separate space for work, which makes it harder to draw the line between personal stuff and professional obligations.

If you were thrust into remote work or didn’t plan for it, your kitchen, living room, or other personal space might now be your makeshift workplace. When you can’t physically leave the office, it’s harder to shut your computer off and call it a day. The work day doesn’t seem to end because your office is right inside your home.

On the flip side, the lack of clear lines between work and home makes it easier to succumb to distractions. There is the refrigerator in the kitchen and the TV in the living room calling for your attention. The computer you’re using to do work is probably the same tool you use to watch YouTube videos, hang out on social media, and binge watch Netflix shows.

If you’re new to remote work, you will need to start with physical boundaries. When I lived in a smaller home, I carved out a spot in the corner of the living room for my desk, chair and computer. I moved to this dedicated space to work. During my breaks, I went to the kitchen or on the back porch.

After I moved into my current and bigger home, I called dibs on a spare room with windows overlooking the backyard. This has served as my home office since I started my own business as a solo lawyer and productivity coach. I use it to do focused work on client matters. The closed door is a signal to my family that I’m at work and should not be disturbed. Although this doesn’t stop my two young children from calling out for my attention, I routinely go to this office when playtime or family time is over and work needs to begin.

For long-term remote work, it’s good to have a well-functioning desk and comfortable chair for ergonomics. A desk that allows you to easily adjust the height for typing, writing or reading, while standing or while seated in a chair can be pricey, but worth the benefits.

To create good feng shui and improve energy flow, you arrange your work equipment so you face into the room and have a wall or screen behind you. This gives you a clear field of vision and helps you feel protected from behind. This is known as the commanding position in that you have a view of the door or room when you’re at your desk.

Although it might be tempting to place your work surface facing a window, this can be quite distracting. Instead, place your workstation perpendicular to the window or opening so the view is within your scope of vision, but not directly in front of it. This gives you access to natural light but makes you less drawn to the outside world when you need to do focused work.

If you don’t have a spare room to serve as an office, you might need to place your work station against the wall so you have a visual separation from your home life. If you have to face a wall or expose your back to the entryway, you could hang a mirror to have a view of the room and see people coming into your space. You could place a small bookcase, table or file cabinet behind you to serve as a physical barrier. You could also partition your workspace from the rest of the room with a shoji screen or other moveable divider.

Your preference for silence or sounds in your background also affects your work-from-home productivity. The good news is you typically have more control over this in a home office. When you’re in a traditional office setting, you can’t keep telling your colleagues to stop talking in the hallway or to quit laughing in the lunchroom.

I know some people who actually work better with the TV on in the background because they find it comforting and less isolating. (I don’t know how they do this, but they do.) White noise machines or apps can also serve as audio signals for work mode.

Personally, I tend to go with silence when I’m doing high-cognitive work, such as writing a legal brief. But in some situations, I use apps like (to which I subscribe) and Focus at Will, which are designed to get you into focus mode, quiet the mind, and increase productivity.

I occasionally play tracks on Coffitivity and Hipstersound to recreate the sounds of a cafe in brainstorming and creative thinking sessions, or when it has just been too quiet for too long. Instrumental music like contemporary piano or the Monument Valley soundtrack are other favorites.

On the other hand, if you have unwanted sounds at home, you could use active noise-cancelling headphones or earphones. If you have small children around, you need to have another responsible adult around who can address their needs while you’re tuning them out.

If certain scents and aromas make you more productive or less stressed, then go ahead and burn that candle or use the essential oil that does the trick. There are no coworkers with allergies and fragrance sensitivities to worry about.

In remote work from home, you have more control in designing your workspace based on your physical, visual, audio and olfactory preferences. You can have your dog napping by your feet or kid doodling next to you while you answer emails. You don’t have colleagues and clients walking into your office and making judgments about what’s appropriate and what’s not.

* * *

For more information on overcoming obstacles to thriving in remote work, read part 1 (Asynchronous Communication) and part 3 (Competing Priorities) of this multipart article.

# # #

Dyan Williams is a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and make time for what truly matters. She is also a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC from her home office. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps, an e-book at