Monthly Archives: June 2011

Collaborating with the enemy

Nancy Glazer is Manager of Legal Launch LLC.  The goal of Legal Launch LLC is to provide uplifting, career counseling for 3Ls, recent law school graduates and experienced attorneys. Nancy offers her clients endless ideas and possibilities to help land them the right job in a competitive market. Visit www.LegalLaunch.net or email Nancy@LegalLaunch.net for more information.  

Did any of your first year law school professors ask you to look to your right and look to your left on the first day of school? Did a professor state that one of your desktop neighbors probably would not return to school as a 2L?

Don’t shake your head one way or another on this next question, but did you ever purposefully hide information or assistance to someone in your law school class, thinking that the guy to your right or the gal to your left was your competition? Similarly, have you secretly competed with one of your colleagues in your law practice?

Has this “economy gone mad” made you more competitive than usual?

I recently attended a workshop geared toward helping people reduce their college tuition costs. The workshop was hosted by an acquaintance. Before the workshop began, the leader asked if anyone in the audience worked for any of the companies read from a list, known to be competitors. With that, an attendee raised his hand and responded that he was employed by a competitor. The leader kindly asked that gentleman to leave the workshop. In that situation, my acquaintance reasoned that he did not want to give away his work product or have the competitor steal his clients.

I am in the business of career counseling for attorneys.  I recently attended an onramping program presented by Make It Better magazine. Before signing up, I wanted to make sure that my attendance wouldn’t pose a problem. If people at the function asked for my card, I did not want to create an inappropriate or uncomfortable situation. Simply put, I wouldn’t attend if my presence created an inkling of conflict for Make It Better staff.

The response to my inquiry from Ms. Suzy Hilbrant of Make It Better was remarkable to me. She instantly exclaimed that I was more than welcome, a sentiment that was later echoed by Make It Better’s founder, Susan Noyes. Most surprising was the reaction of one of the featured speakers, Sheila Nielsen of Nielsen Consulting. In the world of career counseling for lawyers, Ms. Nielsen represents the gold standard; she, too, amazingly echoed the cooperative sentiments of the prior two women. They all agreed, “We don’t compete; we collaborate.”

Because of these contemporary, forward thinking views, “to collaborate, not compete,” my business has benefitted tremendously. I now share business with two different career counselors who were in attendance at that one program.

So what does this mean to you, the law student, the associate, the partner, or in-house counsel? Take it from someone who’s been out of law school for a very long time:

Law school buddies and former and current

colleagues will be with you for the long haul.

Years from now, you will encounter lawyers from your past again and again. You will do them favors and vice versa. These are the folks who are in the best place to help you find and achieve what you need at different points in your life.

If you can, look past the shoulders of this treacherous economy when you turn your head to the right and to the left. Try looking up too. Look to collaborate. Try a more positive path, one where you and your desktop neighbors will both make it to be 2Ls. Even as colleagues, there’s plenty of legal work to go around.

If you are ever asked again to look left and look right, I hope you will do so. Take a good look at your “competition,” and be damn glad they are sitting next to you.

View from the Classroom: Teaching Judgment

Steven D. Schwinn is an associate professor of law at The John Marshall Law School. He is co-editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/ and he can be reached at sschwinn@jmls.edu or (312) 386-2865.

We all know the importance of good judgment. In our profession, we strive for good judgment, and we value it in our colleagues. It is perhaps the most important attribute of a lawyer.

But we provide almost no formal education on good judgment. There’s no law school class on “judgment.” There are no CLE courses on “judgment.” And even so-called skills courses, externships, and the like typically address judgment only in a roundabout kind of way, not as a principal focus. Perhaps the closest we come to formal education in judgment is a clinic or a good professional responsibility course.

Maybe we don’t teach judgment because we think judgment is innate — that it can’t be taught — you either have it, or you don’t. Or maybe we don’t teach it because we think that students and lawyers pick it up through their ordinary studies, practice, and experience: we don’t need to teach it directly, because we teach it indirectly. Or maybe we think that anybody with the aptitude for law practice also must have good judgment.

But experience teaches us otherwise, and we’re due for a healthy dose of formal education in judgment. I’m not advocating a new law school class or CLE course in abstract “judgment.” Like so many other skills and aptitudes, judgment needs to be contextualized. We need to incorporate good judgment throughout our law school and CLE curriculums, so that students learn and practice good judgment in context.

A contextualized judgment education likely has several foci. Perhaps most importantly, it focuses on foresight—the ability to anticipate the variety of likely outcomes of today’s problems and decisions tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, 10 years from now. As we know, our case-focused legal education hardly gives adequate attention to this kind of foresight. But it’s easy to incorporate even into case-based classes: simply deconstruct the decisions leading to cases, and critique the decision-maker’s foresight; or construct the likely longer-term results of cases.

A contextualized judgment education might also focus on broad-based, inclusive, and balanced analysis—the ability to see a problem from the many different perspectives of the different actors involved, to balance those perspectives, and to consider them in forming a judgment. It might also focus on decision criteria—the various forms of deontological reasoning, the various forms of consequentialist reasoning, and other ways of making hard choices. And it certainly focuses on critical and analytical thinking.

Some of these foci are already included in formal legal education; they’re necessary parts of “thinking like a lawyer.” But we don’t always think of them—or teach them—as part of judgment. Considering the importance of good judgment to our profession, we might do more.

When good clients and colleagues go bad; don’t take the bait

J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management. Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

The clients for whom you do the best work, give the best deals, and become your “friends” are the quickest to attack when things go poorly. Many young attorneys make the mistake of becoming too close and vulnerable to an attack. Ask any seasoned attorney and they will likely tell the same story. It is important to chose your battles carefully and remember, “ … this too shall pass.” Attorneys in transition must put their professional reputations first, and not get baited by losing battles.

Always bill the client. The first thing they do is forget the good things you did for them. When a client wants to avoid paying your bill, they will invariably claim you didn’t perform the services required, or failed to accomplish a goal. Earlier this year, I had to terminate a belligerent client, and the first e-mail was the claim I didn’t accomplish objectives – this was a month after I facilitated said client’s position on the front page of the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday edition. Remember; attorneys do not control the courts, and publicists don’t control editors, so let’s set and identify our “objectives” and “deliverables” wisely. When you send the client periodic invoices which are received and paid, the unhappy client has less room to later raise objections.

Don’t sue the client. Letting go of earned but unpaid fees is a better bet than pursuing collection from a client who is likely to reply with an attack on all fronts. There is no quicker way to buy yourself an ARDC complaint than suing for past fees. Some practitioners elect to take this risk and have their procedure for same down to a science. I will bet these same attorneys conduct a cost/benefit analysis since they do run the risk of altercation, and must report suits against clients and ARDC complaints to their professional liability carrier. Is it worth the additional premiums and headache?

When in transition people may seek references and talk to known existing and former clients. People are always watching, listening and taking notes. Our communities are smaller than we realize and those with whom we interact are very aware of how we react to conflict. Remember the phrase, “Don’t let them get your goat?”; well if you don’t tell them where your goat is tied up, they can’t get to it! Remember that most people make decisions and actions based on emotion and later justify them with logic. People forget negative events quickly and you should as well. If you air on the side of being a level-headed and calm professional, you are more likely to receive positive recommendations from others. If you have the reputation of being a hot-head you will likely earn the matching reference.

What if someone has bad news? Look on the bright side, and if that doesn’t work, distance yourself from the drama. Don’t fall into the gossip trap and remember how small your world really is. A story often has two competing accounts of the facts, and not getting caught in the middle will serve you well when in transition and generally. People seem to really love bad news and enjoy talking about it. The same people often look for others to validate and chime in on rumors. We all know where this goes and I’ll submit that most people don’t change, they just gossip with greater discretion. Don’t.

Believe

Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.

Nothing ticks me off more instantaneously, and completely, than arrogance. Pump that up by a factor of 100 when it’s present in someone who has no cause for it. You know who I’m talking about. The guy behind you on the Kennedy who’s convinced wherever he’s going is far more important than your safety. The lawyer on the other side who is convinced that his law school education is so vastly superior to yours that you represent a mere trifle on his way to yet another victory for his client. Yes, those people. But some things I read recently reminded me that such people have something to teach all of us.

Their self-esteem is usually the result of one of two qualities: gargantuan insecurity, or an unshakeable, bedrock belief in themselves and their capabilities, deserved or not. In the former, it’s pure overcompensation. In the latter, they may be the only ones who would agree. Either way, they press ahead, certain they are right, charging up the hill wielding their expectation that they will be victorious like a medieval sword. Sometimes, cosmic justice asserts itself, and they fall on the seat of their pants, but more often than not, they often reach heights that belie their often modest talent. There’s the lesson. Henry Ford, or any one of twenty other famous people to whom the quote is attributed, were onto something: “Whether you think you can, or can’t, you’re right.”

I am not advocating an inflated self of self-worth that conflicts with the available evidence. But I am often too hard on myself, and I suspect that more people suffer from this infirmity than a delusional sense of their omnipotence. Look in the mirror. There are no doubt some warts, perhaps real and often figurative that disappoint you on the outside, and similar shortcomings that probably haunt you internally. However only inside your head is the difference made: if you believe that those inadequacies overwhelm your accomplishments, they do. And if you don’t, they don’t.

Some of you are thankfully sufficiently self-aware that you instinctively understand what you do well and what you need to improve, and find on balance, that you’re pretty happy with what you see. But the job search process is the natural enemy of self-esteem. Rejection comes in large and small packages on a frequent basis. You are pummeled by forces over which you not only have no control, but which seem to delight in singling you out and torturing you. There are grim realities like paying bills and keeping families happy that are a monumental aggravating factor. It is more important than ever to survey your self-worth, and give it a bit of polish, and convince yourself that you have what it takes to overcome the obstacles between where you are and where you want to be. If you can generate the needed calibration from inside your head, fine, but if not, find it elsewhere. Get some validation. Invite a friend to coffee and do a sanity check. Because if you don’t believe, no one else will either.

If you jump ship, remember your previous station

J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management. Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

A friend of mine, Cheryl Heisler, is the principal of Lawternatives, and she helps lawyers select alternatives to traditional legal careers. Ok, I understand that some get a wandering eye when faced with law school loans and the desire to pay the bills. Don’t toss your legal career away, your family says. Fear not, you can have your cake and eat it too.

A few years ago I ran into a fellow law school alumni at an event. She told me that after law school she had children, her husband took a job in Hong Kong and she ended up working overseas as a teacher. Upon her return to Illinois, she served on boards of education and worked in fundraising. At the time, I was working in legal staffing and recruiting and my friend told me she felt behind the curve and was starting all over trying to get a job in law. At the time, I told her not to worry, and I would say the same thing today.

Many leave the practice and profession of law, and they can and do return, often with a better outlook, making them better practitioners. There is nothing that makes me shutter more than a senior attorney who says, “Shut up and take the money and tell these people what they want to hear – that’s the secret. …” What on earth? Where’s the ARDC when we need them? These practitioners need their cards pulled and should be removed from the bar. The practice of law is a privilege, not a right.

Having said that, if you find yourself compelled to work in another industry for a while (and I might add I recently heard some school reported 68 percent of grads were not employed in traditional legal practice) you can always stay in touch with the legal practice or profession. Here are a few ways you can stay involved:  (1) pick a legal topic you like and become an “expert” on your own and at your own pace; (2) maintain an active presence with your alumni organization; (3) volunteer in a legal clinic; (4) offer to do work or volunteer at the law school.

If you want to practice law and spend your life in the legal profession you will do so, it is just a matter of what you are willing to put up with until you get there. If you want to explore a “Lawternative” you should, and consider the value add you might bring to the table if/when you return to the law. Yes, the years of experience you gather in consistent practice can give you a good sense of legal instinct; however, the same can also breed contempt.

Sometime it seems like you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. At the end of the day we should all pursue what makes us feel enriched and what hopefully inspires us to make the world a better place. If the law doesn’t do that for you, feel free to take off. Nobody will condemn you for living a life of misery for a decision you made when you were 21 years old. At the same time, if you left, regret the decision and want to come back, just do it!

Leveraging Your Reputation: Be an expert

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 midsize 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.

You’ve probably been practicing law long enough to know that you are good at what you do, and should be recognized for it beyond just your coworkers, clients, and other attorneys. One way to stand out from the crowd and communicate to a wider audience is to become an expert. If you don’t want to be an expert on a national or international scale, you can be a big fish in a small pond. How big you want your sphere of influence to be is up to you.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Define Your Niche and Audience. An obvious niche is the area in which you already practice law. But can you refine that even more? Decide if you’re going to be an expert to other attorneys or if you are going to want to appeal to people outside of the legal profession. Then you can plan where you are going to share your expertise and what type of language you are going to use to communicate with them.

Prepare. Even though you already have a lot of knowledge and experience, it never hurts to get more education and to read even more so that you will be a good source of information for others. Get tips from someone who is more established in your niche, or talk to a mentor. If you don’t know anyone personally who can help, then go online and look at experts’ books and articles to read all you can. Look at what the current experts know, and see if you can add something unique or extra. Or just find out what the average person knows. You just need to know more than they do to give them helpful advice.

Break it Down. Law is a complex subject for many people. A good way to become an expert outside the legal profession is to take a complex case that you have worked on, or an important historical or current legal decision, and simplify it for people to understand. You can also explain what current laws mean in “layman’s” terms. Then post your summary online, either at your own site or someone else’s. There are also various publications that you can submit your explanation to, online or offline.

Outlets. Experts give seminars, teach classes, appear on panels, write articles, post online, publish books, go on TV and radio, have a YouTube channel, and more. Decide what outlet you want to use to display your expertise. Or do them all. The more exposure you have, the more you’ll be known, and after a while, you won’t have to put forth so much effort; people will be asking you to make an appearance or write something for their publication.

And remember: Substance still matters. Stay informed on your chosen niche, develop superior speaking and writing skills, and the combination of your helpful knowledge and experience, combined with your exposure, will make you a solid expert to whom people will turn.

Inside Perspective: Don’t take advice from a serpent

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent: ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die. But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die!’”

Genesis 3: 1-4

 As we all know from this story in Genesis, a decision was made on the basis of the representation made by the serpent and as a result thereof, humankind now knows the taste of death.  In the case of Adam and Eve, the serpent meant to deceive humankind.  I do not mean to diminish in any way mankind’s fall from God’s grace nor do I mean to exaggerate the effects of taking bad advice.  However, dire consequences may befall any one of us on a much lesser scale if we take otherwise well meaning advice from someone who is not well qualified to give it.

For example, a wise person would never take career advice on how to become an in-house lawyer from an airline pilot.  No matter how well meaning that pilot is, she is just not competent to advise a student or new lawyer on how to develop a career path leading to the general counsel’s office.  A good, honest and ethical airline pilot would not even attempt such folly.  Likewise, a thoughtful person would likely not rely upon an in-house counsel to advise them on how to become a federal judge.  The wise in-house counsel, when asked such advice from a student, would put that person in touch with a friend or colleague who is a judge, or help that person in some other way to connect with a federal judge willing to give such advice.

For aspiring law students and new lawyers, seeking career advice can be scary because they have no benchmark against which to judge the advice they are given and whether it is sound advice or not.  Just because the advice comes from a prominent litigator in the student’s community does not mean that it is good advice.  So what does one do?

Seek advice from trusted, experienced people in your community.  Ask them for the names of people they know and trust and then for an introduction.  Most people are willing to help those asking for assistance – if they aren’t then you don’t want their advice anyway.  Then listen thoughtfully.  Ask appropriate questions at the appropriate times to test the advice.  Start building your benchmarks.  Then repeat the process, many times and with many different people, but always with trusted people who have been referred by other people close to you.  Your benchmarks will evolve as you feed off the wisdom and experience of those who are advising you.  Good people will refer you to other good people.

Expand your circle of trusted advisors, always having at least one and no more than three, who you can share everything with and from whom you expect nothing less than having your best interests in the forefront of their minds when giving you advice.

The lack of judgment exercised by Adam and Eve in choosing to disobey God’s command was inevitable.  However, students of the law are presumed to have at least a minimum level of competence.  Exercise discernment in everything you do as a lawyer, including picking your mentors.  None of them can possibly have the wisdom of Solomon, but as long as they are genuinely interested in your personal development and have a few years of solid experience behind them, you should be OK.