Monthly Archives: June 2010

Meet one of the event speakers

Nick Augustine is the President of ALR/PRA, Inc., a national full service law practice management agency headquartered in downtown Chicago. He took some time to talk about what he hopes to discuss at Thursday’s event.

This presentation offers instruction on how lawyers can organize and leverage their professional brand during transitions to another firm, or solo practice.  Two main ingredients to success are practice development and lawyer marketing.  Practice development is a skill we learn and protect, and lawyer marketing is a means to the development end.  Practice development first requires us to recognize our professional brand and what qualities make us effective and memorable.

The biggest social media mistake that legal job candidates and professionals generally make is inundating their social networks with irrelevant material, causing confusion and irritation.  A working knowledge of your audience is essential before publishing targeted information.  In deciding how to best use social media to leverage your brand, start with a marketing plan you can maintain.  Remember, when planning your content, your reader is always asking “What’s in it for me?” Your response should be to that end.

Lawyers can best use social media when they approach it as a large canvas upon which they can paint their best professional portrait.  Understanding the style of each channel of social media communication will take time, but is worth the investment.  Although social media may be cost effective, successful usage requires long term planning and commitment.  Creating and using a profile is an ongoing journey and as the sites evolve, their platforms require active participation.

The main advice for lawyers looking to make a career transition is to start with a set of blindfolds, forget for a moment where you currently work or even that you went to law school.   Then, make a list of your strengths; an honest self-assessment is necessary to determine your best career goals.  Once you feel you are on a solid path towards a career transition, just do it and don’t look back.

Inside Perspective: Farewell

Anita Wilson is VP & Chief Employment Counsel at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Westchester, Ill., where she handles all labor, employment, benefits, ethics and compliance issues.

I have really enjoyed writing this column these past few months.  My editor has allowed me to comment on a number of different issues such as my favorite things about outside counsel and how partners and associates can work better together.  I’ve given tips to law students and young associates and discussed why women lawyers love their careers.  I’d like to end this gig with my final thoughts on what writing this blog has taught me about the legal profession and being in-house.  I say “final,” not just because it’s my last blog at Chicago Lawyer magazine online, but also because, at best, I highly doubt anyone else will ever give me a bully pulpit like this again.  At worst, I’d just like to be able to still work in this town.

There are lots of attorneys still out there looking for work.

Like many others lawyers, I get a call or e-mail per day from an out-of-work lawyer who is looking for a job.  The experience level of the average unemployed attorney runs the gamut. Just this past weekend I met a lawyer who had been practicing for over 30 years and who is now out of work.  For the most part, I try very hard to help unemployed lawyers who ask for help and you should too.

There are too many bar associations.

When you’re in a law firm, it’s relatively easy: Pick a national bar like the American Bar Association and a local bar association like the Chicago Bar Association. Then pick one “affiliated” bar association like the Women’s Bar Association.  Pick one association’s conference to attend because you can’t afford the time off to attend them all.   Done.  But then you go in-house and you’ve suddenly got 50 additional bar associations from which to choose.  In addition to being on the board of the Chicago chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, I’ve either been affiliated with or attended a conference by the Corporate Counsel Women of Color organization, the National Bar Association, the Black Women Lawyers Association and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.  People get angry when you fail to acknowledge a particular organization.   I’m often indignantly asked: “What do you mean you’re not going to the [insert association] conference?”  “I have to work.” I sheepishly respond.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have met wonderful people at and learned quite a bit from all of these organizations.  But am I the only one who will admit out loud that I just can’t do it all?  Next year, I’m attending only one conference and that will be the conference for the “Association of Saving For My Daughter’s College Tuition” – an association that could use some renewed focus and attention.

Law firm lawyers still don’t get it; but if I were a law firm lawyer, I wouldn’t get it either.

As much as I complain about law firm lawyers, I could not be one (by the grace of God I won’t have to be one any time soon).  That’s because in-house lawyers demand the impossible: “Understand my business. Figure out the law.  Anticipate every possible legal issue I have or could have on earth and on Mars even if I don’t give you any details whatsoever. And don’t charge me for that!”   The expectations are ridiculous.  So to all those law firm lawyers I call on Friday afternoons with weekend assignments, who I ask over and over to explain a particular area of the law that I stupidly just don’t understand, and who I ask to drive out to my company’s offices in the dreadful suburbs, I raise my glass and toast you.  You know who you are. Thanks for putting up with me. Thanks for teaching me. Thanks for sucking up to me. But most importantly, thanks for reading this blog.  Until the next matter … farewell.

Job Search Strategies: The CBA lawyer referral service

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Last week I attended a meeting at the Chicago Bar Association on the topic of the CBA’s lawyer referral service (LRS). As the meeting proceeded I had an “aha” moment, thinking what a great resource this is for both attorneys and clients. What surprised me was that I have never taken advantage of this service. I certainly intend to now.

Now that I am finally focusing on this resource I realize what a useful tool it could be to build up your client base. One attorney at the presentation claims he receives eight to 10 referrals a month from it. The referrals are pre-screened by the CBA LRS, either by attorneys or by a trained layperson.

The cost is relatively low. Annual dues range from $75 to $300 for CBA members, double for nonmembers. You pay 15 percent of the fees you collect on referred cases to the CBA.  The client pays a $30 fee for using the referral service. Once you are retained by the client, you collect that fee and pass it on to the CBA.

The so-called general panel covers 47 areas of law and each attorney can sign up for referrals in up to four areas of law. The Special Experience Panels cover fewer areas of law and the annual registration fees are higher.

According to the CBA LRS website, under the Services tab, the qualifications to receive referrals in any of the general panel areas are:

  • Handle general civil litigation (contract disputes, collections, property damage, etc.)
  • Admitted to practice for a minimum of one year and engaged in the substantial private practice of general areas of law.
  • Maintain an office outside your home with telephone access.
  • Maintain an adequate office calendar/support system for tracking cases.
  • Have reasonable courtroom experience.
  • Complete written application, maintain professional liability insurance, obtain approval of screening panel.
  • If approved, annual registration fee of $75 if in practice under 5 years; $100 if 5 years or more (rates are double for nonmembers).

The Special Experience Panels require the following qualifications:

  • In addition to General Panel qualifications above, must have at least five years’ concentrated experience in area of law applying for.
  • Annual registration fee of $150 or $200 (depending on panel) for up to four panels (rates are double for nonmembers).

Additionally, the Lawyer Referral Service has an ARDC panel of attorneys experienced in representing attorneys in disciplinary proceedings before the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Hopefully, none of us will need the latter service ever, but I, for one, am going to test out the client referral service soon. Of course, there are numerous other lawyer referral services for Illinois lawyers and if any one of you readers has used any of them, please leave me a comment sharing your experience.

An honorable calling

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc.  He is also President Elect of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

He will begin writing for the blog once a week, sharing his opinions and thoughts from the perspective of an in-house counsel. Here is his first entry.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Practicing law is an  honorable calling.  Never ever forget that.  We are professionals duty bound to zealously represent our clients to the utmost of our ability.   I think sometimes non-lawyers view lawyers as shifty characters because they don’t understand how we work.  We make arguments that clients might not always understand.  We present the facts in a light most reasonable to the position that is favorable to our clients.  We posture.  We cajole.  We threaten.  We tear into people in search of the truth.  We often deal in unpleasantries.  Not many people are fond of lawyers as a group, until they need one. We sometimes then get the wink and knowing nod from the client, to demonstrate that they “understand” how we operate, they’ll play along and assume that we will take care of the dirty stuff outside of their presence.

Many clients do not understand that it is our  sworn ethical obligation to represent them zealously, honestly and ethically.   I remember when I passed the bar some years back.  Someone sent me an article likening a new lawyer’s integrity to a brand spanking new shiny suit of armor.  The suit protects the lawyer’s untarnished reputation.   Each time the lawyer compromises his or her integrity, the armor is nicked, rust appears  corrupting the protective coating worn by the lawyer and eventually lays bare the  vulnerable flesh beneath it.   This is an apt analogy don’t you think?

How many times have you encountered a lawyer that rarely does what he says he will do, cuts corners on advice, pads the bill a tad  or fudges “just a little” on document production?  How do you view that lawyer when you next cross paths?   On the other hand, how many times have you encountered an adversary who behaves as the ultimate professional, who can be trusted not to take pot shots at you or use underhanded tactics to gain an edge?  At the end of the day, in which case does the client fare better?

Our jobs and our lives are complicated enough without having to negotiate the day (or the deal) worrying about whether or not the people with whom we are dealing can be trusted.  Whether with our adversaries or with our own clients, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our clients and to our profession to be honest, to say what we mean, to do what we say, honor the profession, respect the law, do what is right and win.  How pleasant our professional lives are when we practice these principles and have them practiced on us.

So, polish up your suit of armor, strap it on for battle.  Shine for your clients and your profession.  Do the right thing.  Most of all protect your integrity, for at the end what does any one of us have left but our good name?

Beyond blog basics

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and mid-sized law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs.  Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Blogs seem to have taken the backburner thanks to other social media applications developing faster than you can say, well, “blogs.” However, this doesn’t mean that blogs are less important or have lost their effectiveness. If you have been a blogger for a while, consider the following ways to spruce up your blog and keep it relevant amidst the social media onslaught.

Give your blog a face

An icon or slogan is a great way to add character to your blog and set yourself apart. Plus, readers are favorable to the little details that make blogs unique. Genfavicon.com is a program you can use to upload your own image to create a “favicon,” or favorite icon, that will appear to the left of your blog’s URL address. This icon could be anything from your firm logo to a photo of something relevant to the legal world (e.g. a gavel). Using a favicon or other image will give your blog personality and make it easier for people to remember your firm.

Tie in your tweets

If you’re on Twitter, linking your Twitter account to your blog not only shows your readers that you are active on other social media platforms, but it also ties together your Internet presence. Perhaps you don’t blog everyday, but if you tweet often, readers will have fresh, updated material to view on your blog. A program called Twitter Tools allows you to completely integrate your blog and Twitter account by allowing such things as: automatically sending a tweet when you write a new blog post or creating a blog post from one of your tweets.

Ask for readers’ opinions

Everyone knows you should allow interaction on your blog by encouraging readers to comment on your posts, but you can do more. Programs such as Poll Daddy or Quibblo allow you to create your own polls or surveys about the topics you blog about. This can do a number of things: 1) get readers interested about a topic that’s important to you or your firm, 2) encourage them to revisit to find out the results, or 3) give you material to blog about once you collect a number of responses.

Inside Perspective: What I didn’t learn in law school, I learned in the real world …

Anita Wilson is VP & Chief Employment Counsel at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Westchester, Ill., where she handles all labor, employment, benefits, ethics and compliance issues.

I learned a lot in law school. Law school teaches much more than statutes and laws.  Among other things, law school teaches you how to think, analyze, write, explain and discuss.  A lot of people do not know how to do these things, or at least do not know how to do them well.  But as much as I learned in law school, there are a few things that I didn’t learn there, but instead, learned in the real world.

Is there anything else I should know?

Clients don’t always tell you everything.  In law school, students read cases in which the facts are set forth neatly and systematically.  In mock client counseling competitions, students sit agreeably in pretend offices with pretend clients and pretend coffee analyzing pretend issues which are explained by orderly and smart, pretend clients.  But in the real world, clients are anything but orderly and logical.  In the real world, clients don’t always tell you things in sequential order.  Forget sequence, sometimes clients don’t tell you key facts or even all of the facts.

I once interviewed a client about a particular situation in which she was involved.  Step by step I painstakingly walked her through the facts.  I pretty much started from the day she was born to the day she made the decision at issue.  Finally, after about five, 10, 12 hours or so (or so it seemed), I wiped the sweat from my brow and put down my pen.  And then I asked: “Is there anything else I need to know or that you haven’t told me regardless of whether you think it’s important or not?” And then she said it: “Well … there was X but I didn’t tell you because it’s hearsay.”

Now I kind of know hearsay rules.  I took Evidence during my second year of law school.  And I spent the spring break during my second year actually litigating a mock TRIAL in an intense trial advocacy class that was taught by federal Judge James F. Holderman.  However my client, who clearly had a law degree from the school of Law and Order and Ally McBeal almost didn’t tell me a material fact in the matter because … well, because she knows hearsay objections too.  So now I ask, ask again, ask some more and then ask one last time … just in case the client, like me, has taken Evidence at some time or another.

You’re not always the smartest one in the room.

It’s hard to get into law school.  You kind of have to be smart. Once you get to law school, you learn that, unlike undergraduate school where perhaps the head of your sorority was not exactly in Mensa, everyone in law school is smart. And so everyone in law school kind of walks around collectively smirking and thinking “aren’t we all smart?”  Until, that is, you get into the real world where – gasp(!) – there are non-lawyers, pedagogical neophytes if you will, who are way smarter than you.

I distinctly remember a time when I was in private practice and I was talking on the phone to a client who owned a grocery store chain.  I was writing a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the client who was being sued by one of his brokers in a complex contract dispute.  In each draft of the motion, I kept misstating a key fact about the brokerage relationship. I just didn’t get it. The client, who was a young, scrappy and scary-smart entrepreneur finally said to me: “If you don’t understand this point, I’m going to have to come down there (to the law firm presumably) and write this motion myself.”  Not so smart, after-all, ‘eh?

Escape from the real world?

Law school was hard work and stressful at times.  Nevertheless, I sometimes miss it.  I miss the days when pretend clients were easy and pliable and I was the smartest person in the room. Maybe I’ll escape from the real world and go back to school.  Anybody know where I can pick up an L.L.M.?

Job Search Strategies: specialist or one-stop-shopping maven?

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

When I started out as an associate at a medium-sized law firm, I had no choice but to be a generalist. All cases that were not criminal or personal-injury cases ended up on my desk. This included all types of civil litigation, which no one in the office wanted to handle.

So I became a generalist by default. I had to research new cases heavily, consult the other lawyers in the office and generally make a significant effort to make sure my clients had competent representation no matter what their issue was.

I worked excruciatingly long hours and was either in court, meeting with clients or drafting motions and other pleadings at 2 in the morning. The experience was invaluable in that I learned how to be a good lawyer with lightning speed and I was involved with complex cases and first chaired several trials in my first two years as a practicing attorney.

When I opened my first law office, I continued to be a generalist. My clients came to me for any and all issues they had and, out of loyalty, I felt that I needed to represent them in any and all of those issues where I was competent to do so. I felt I understood them and could serve them better than by referring them to another lawyer. When I referred them to another attorney, some clients felt they were being handed off to a stranger they did not necessarily trust.

This way of practicing was not the best way to use my time or to be compensated fairly, really, because I spent time getting up to speed on many legal issues and did not always bill for time I thought of as my own “prep” time.

So this time around, after lots of analysis of the past, reading and thinking, the business model for my second law office is predicated on strict specialization. I will only take on a specific type of client, I will not take on clients’ overflow matters, no matter how sympathetic I feel about their dilemma, and I am on track to become a total expert in only a couple of specific related areas of law. Definitely going for depth over breadth this time.

But no sooner had I come to that decision than my attention was drawn to multiple trade articles, blog postings, and expert advice by legal practitioners that indicates that the best way to develop a successful practice is by being a “one-stop-shopping” type of law office, where clients feel comfortable bringing most of their legal issues and trusting that they will have one lawyer they know well handle them. This implies a sort of cradle to grave idea as well.

An alternative I see to the last mentioned model is that of working with a tightly controlled referral group of attorneys, where you would stay closely involved in the case you referred for the duration of the case. But I believe most attorneys I would refer cases to would not want to have me remain closely involved with the work they are doing for “my” client.

It is difficult to decide how to handle this issue. Maybe as my practice evolves it will become clearer how to handle clients who expect me to be their sole provider of legal services. Alternatively, maybe I should stop reading and listening to so many different opinions.