Monthly Archives: June 2009

Advice from one lawyer

Cynde Hirschtick Munzer is a senior partner in the Business Organizations and Transactions Group of Arnstein & Lehr. She has more than 20 years of experience representing businesses in a broad range of sophisticated business matters, including asset and stock acquisitions and dispositions, mergers, joint development agreements, license agreements, and real estate matters. She has represented some of Chicago’s leading financial institutions, as well as Fortune 500 companies, privately owned companies, family owned businesses and entrepreneurial businesses.

What is the biggest challenge for female lawyers due to this economy?

The biggest challenge is that not nearly enough female lawyers have been able to become “rainmakers” and control their book of business, compared to men.  And, when the economy gets tough, the attorneys who do not have their own books of business are more at risk for lay-offs and compensation cuts since the firms need to focus the financial rewards on the attorneys who have portable books of business they could take to another firm. Another challenge is in this economy is that for those attorneys who are not laid off, there is quite a bit of pressure to demonstrate your value to the firm, and that means maximizing your billable hours. For women lawyers who may have family demands, this makes things even more challenging.

What are three pieces of advice for female lawyers so they can better position themselves for advancement in the legal profession?

My three pieces of advice are as follows and are gender-neutral, and apply to both men and women:

1) Be persistent and tenacious in focusing upon and achieving your goals;

2) Develop solid work relationships and good working synergies with other attorneys within your firm. You could rely upon these other attorneys to provide business matters for you to work on and also provide solid support to you on matters that you bring into the firm.

For example, Howard Swibel, who has been on our management committee for the 23 years that I have been at Arnstein & Lehr, has served as a mentor to me through the years. He has brought me on some interesting matters, such as the recent Midway Airport privatization when our firm served as local counsel for the successful bidder on that project. Howard has also been very helpful to me on some of the matters I have brought in for my own clients.

Another example is one of our newer lateral partners, Michael Gesas, who joined our firm last year. Michael is one of the city’s premiere bankruptcy and workout attorneys.  He has been helpful in getting me involved in that area, since I am a transactional attorney and that’s where most of the transactions tend to me these days…in the distressed asset and workout area. Michael was extremely helpful to me last year when I brought in a bankruptcy matter on behalf of a large publicly held company, and he in turn has bought me in to help him negotiate on behalf of his clients who are transitioning into deals out of bankruptcy. It has been a two-way street with both Howard and Michael, and that is exactly how optimally it should work!

Network outside the firm and develop relationships that could lead to business, perhaps not immediately but down the road.  Networking has become a way of life for me…it started out as something I embarked upon to reach my business goals but it has helped me tremendously as a person. Some of my best female friends are those whom I have made through networking since we tend to have a lot in common and I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if not for those friendships!

What advice do you have for female lawyers who may be nervous about networking?

Go to the bookstore and read books on networking…there’s some very good ones out there.  For example, one of the books I have recommended is called “How to Work a Room”.  Also, she should definitely stay current on business events.  I read the Wall Street Journal every day and highly recommend her getting a subscription to the publication.

For me, networking has been a survival technique. I am basically a very shy person, but I have learned through the years to put that aside and build relationships with prominent people in the business world that could lead to business down the road.

There is a female associate, who wants to someday be a leader at her law firm.  What should she be doing?

She should focus on developing her own book of business that she controls. This may not necessarily mean that she must bring in her own clients from the outside. Instead, she can work hard and build relationships with the firm’s existing clients who may come to rely upon her skills and expertise, particularly if it is in an area of expertise that not many other attorneys in the firm have.  If this is a larger client of the firm, establishing this type of relationship can help the female associate advance within the firm.

Schiff Hardin wins BWLA diversity award

By Josh Wolff

A student from Southern Illinois University School of Law made the 330-mile trek from Carbondale to Chicago this past spring to interview for a scholarship from the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc.

The student, who was also graduating the very next day, believed it was important to interview with the group. She wanted the opportunity to be surrounded by black women with careers in law — a comforting and unique experience for the student.

While she didn’t win the scholarship, the student’s long drive to be in the company of black female lawyers represents why Tracy A. Campbell, a BWLA scholarship  committee member, believes so strongly in being actively involved in the BWLA.

“It just highlighted for us why we need to have a community of lawyers who are committed to one another … and committed to being role models and mentors to law students, young lawyers, and colleagues,” said Campbell, a partner at Schiff Hardin.

The role Campbell and  Schiff Hardin Associate Marla Shade Harris have promoting diversity at Schiff Hardin recently led to the firm being honored with the Above and Beyond Award given by the BWLA. Harris said it isn’t a surprise that Schiff Hardin was recognized for diversity.

“It has historically been a strong supporter of the BWLA, and the award is reflection of the historical support,” said Harris, current BWLA vice president. “Even in the hard times economically, Schiff [Hardin’s] dedication is great, and they never hesitate to help out.”

The award was presented to the firm at the BWLA’s annual Scholarship Reception and Installation Ceremony in May. Campbell said the award recognizes the firm’s sponsorship of fundraising events and scholarships related to diversity.

While the chief aim of the group is to address the concerns and issues of black women, the group also wants to assist other minorities, recognizing workplace diversity cannot be achieved unless all groups of people work together.

Both Campbell and Harris say another objective of the BWLA is to build a community of black female lawyers that can provide support for other black female lawyers.

Harris hopes  this support and the community built by the group can help increase the number of black women attending law schools.

“I hope that more young women, particularly of color, see that lawyers exist that look like them,” she said. “That is important because when you look at [television], you may or may not be exposed to all the careers that are possible. It’s my hope that our efforts let them explore all the other options out there.”

Campbell said the BWLA has been successful due to the dedication of its group members.

“[The BWLA] is extremely important and has certainly been the one legal organization that I have put so much of my time and energy into,” she said. “The community that makes up BWLA is incredibly strong and insightful.”

Fix your mortgage workshops

Every three months, 250,000 new families enter into foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

To help people facing concerns with their mortgage, the Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc. and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago teamed up to host two Fix Your Mortgage workshops in May and June. The City of Chicago, The MacArthur Foundation and the Home Ownership Preservation Initiative also sponsored the events.

At-risk homeowners who attended received free counseling and application assistance for President Obama’s “Making Home Affordable” loan modification program, http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/.   It is estimated that about 30,000 Chicago area homeowners qualify to have their monthly mortgage payment reduced under this new program.

Michael W. van Zalingen, director of home ownership services for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, said the state has over 100,000 foreclosures but does not have enough housing counselors to provide meaningful services. Real estate lawyers can help fill that gap — as they did at the two events, he said.

“It was really inspiring,” he said. “It was wonderful and refreshing because I’ve been really depressed about the foreclosure crisis … This really made me feel like we can do something about this.”

A total of 932 people were counseled during the two events, and 526 of them qualified for Obama’s loan modification, van Zalingen said. Estimates say that there will be 10 million more foreclosures nationally over the next five years, he said.

“There will be a need for real estate lawyers to develop this kind of expertise,” he said. “I think that it’s important to make sure attorneys have the skills, but also are able to provide these events on an ongoing basis.”

Henry S. Shulruff, senior vice president – business development for Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc., said about 30,000 people in the Chicago area may qualify for the modification.

“We’ve taken big steps toward helping many people,” Shulruff said. “There a lot more people that could be helped. … The spirit of volunteerism that Illinois lawyers have shown has been tremendous. They have stepped up to the plate in droves to help out. It is refreshing and very encouraging to see how much lawyers are willing to help those in need in their community.”

These events have been a great opportunity for the real estate bar and the not-for-profit sectors to work together and use their knowledge, training and resources to help people, Shulruff said. He said several hundred lawyers were trained to assist at these two events.

“When we first came up with this idea we thought, one, that it’s a great idea; and two, we thought there was the opportunity to create a format that could be duplicated in other parts of the state or throughout the country…,” he said. “These events, as far as we know it, are the first of their kind and they were really successful. We have since been talking to other organizations in other parts of the country, other bar associations and bar-related title insurance companies that want to duplicate this format.

“One of the keys to making this work is having the lawyers properly trained. Michael has done a great job conducting seminars and training and last week we recorded an on-demand program, a CLE seminar on negotiating loan modifications and the Obama plan and that’s available through www.atgf.com.”

Job search strategy: Asking for help from old friends

Dana Hill is a large law firm attorney who is transitioning to an alternative legal career.  Dana has practiced for 10 years and has been in transition since early 2009.

When I first found myself on the job market and was telling friends and colleagues about my situation, many people expressed to me the fear that their job was in jeopardy.  After a number of these conversations, I figured out an appropriate response to their concerns.  I would suggest that they should think about the people they would call to ask for help in finding a new job and if there were people on this list who they had not spoken with for a long time, then they should call them up now to say hi or get together.  My thinking was that it is much easier to ask for help from someone with whom you have had recent contact than from someone you haven’t spoken to in years.  This activity would also provide the fearful jobholder with a sense that they were doing something about a situation that was otherwise out of their control.

Initially in my job search, one of the hardest things to do was reaching out to people for help.  I quickly realized that pride and embarrassment would hinder me.  I also realized that nearly all of the people I encountered who found out about my situation wanted to help me – I just had to tell them how.

One effective method I used for requesting help from colleagues, particularly ones with whom I had not had regular or recent contact, was to send them an email stating the following:  my position was recently eliminated; I wanted them to have my new contact information; a description of the type of job I was looking for; I was interested in meeting people in this type of job; and thanking them for any help.  I also attached my resume.  While meeting with people face-to-face is best, this email communication was effective for me in getting the message out to a large number of people.  As my job search continued, I could contact them again to ask more specific questions.  It also provided a great template email for sending to new contacts that I made.

In sending out this email to old friends, I had a very good response rate.  In one instance, an attorney who represented a co-defendant in a case I handled let me know that she was leaving her in-house position to transfer to another division.  She suggested I applied for the job and put in a good word for me.  I applied and interviewed before the job was posted.  I would not have found out about this opportunity if not for contacting her and letting her know how she could help me.

Q & A with Nancy J. Rich

Nancy J. Rich, a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman, represents clients in complex matters under environmental and common law including Superfund, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and environmental toxic torts.

What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

Strategy and problem-solving.  In both the litigation and transactional/counseling aspects of our practice, it is critical to learn and understand the concerns of all parties involved in the lawsuit, deal or regulatory issue. For example, sometimes we find that one or both parties’ demands don’t really match their objectives, or that a client or opponent has a different perception than we had understood regarding one or more issues. Obtaining that knowledge gives us a tremendous advantage in communicating with our clients and working with them to develop a strategy to litigate or negotiate a favorable resolution.

What makes a good lawyer?

A good lawyer has to think critically and know how to strategically apply that thinking to resolve clients’ real life issues. Clients want to focus on their business, and they need practical, cost-effective legal advice that helps them to demonstrate that they are effectively managing legal issues. For example, I often need to hire environmental technical experts to provide consulting services or to testify on behalf of our clients. All too often, I see consultants who propose a science project instead of a streamlined solution that resolves the client’s problem. A good lawyer stays focused on the ultimate goals and helps to form and guide the client’s team so that it achieves these goals in the most economically and ethically responsible manner.

What is the biggest legal news right now, and what is its impact?

Congress and the new administration are working to legislatively reshape the nation’s economy into a sustainability-driven economy.  We hear and read multiple stories every day — new fuel economy standards that will significantly change the cars we drive; capping and trading of greenhouse gas emissions to address global climate change; tax incentives for clean energy and green buildings.  “Going green” is becoming an economic mandate in the marketplace, and sustainability-driven laws, rules and public policy are affecting businesses and investments. At the same time, these changes are creating new business opportunities for companies and individuals who anticipate and understand them.

In order to provide clients with the assistance they need to navigate these new opportunities and challenges, lawyers need to form interdisciplinary teams or practice groups that include areas such as corporate governance (SEC disclosures), real estate (green buildings), environmental (regulatory and litigation), financial services/tax (bonds and tax credits) and intellectual property (green patents).

Getting legal help online

Illinois Legal Aid Online was created in March 2001 as the Illinois Technology Center for Law & the Public Interest, according to its’ website.

The “tech center” was created by twelve partner organizations as a statewide collaboration of Illinois legal services providers, funding entities, the private bar and law schools.

Illinois Legal Aid Online was housed at Chicago-Kent College of Law for its first four years, and the law school donated space and technical resources to the organization, in addition to supporting it financially.

The Chicago Bar Foundation, the Lawyers Trust Fund and Chicago-Kent were all instrumental in the formation and growth of Illinois Legal Aid Online and provided not only necessary funding, but early leadership, motivation and vision.

Illinois Legal Aid Online provides the statewide technology infrastructure that helps streamline the delivery of free and pro bono legal services to the poor, and provides legal information and pro se assistance to the public, according to its website.

Executive Director Lisa Colpoys said the organization’s mission is to use technology in innovative ways to increase access to legal services for low-income residents. It created three websites that serve three distinct audiences, Colpoys said.

Illinoislegalaid.org provides legal information for the public; illinoislegaladvocate.org provides support for legal aid advocates; and illinoisprobono.org provides tools for volunteer attorneys.

On illinoislegalaid.org, for example, people can access everything from instructional videos about how to go to small claims court to a large library of automated documents that help them complete legal documents. Colpoys said judges love this website because it helps prepare people for their day in court. The site receives about 80,000 visits a month, she said.

Lawyers can use illinoisprobono.org to find volunteer opportunities that fit their needs, she said. And once they find an opportunity they can receive training through webcasts. They can also utilize automated libraries that help lawyers get up to speed in an area they may not have a lot of experience in.

Illinoislegaladvocate.org is a portal for communication within the community, and provides training and practice support for legal aid advocates, she said.

“It’s really rewarding. I’ve been in legal aid almost my whole career,” she said about working with this organization. “It’s exciting to be able to be involved in something innovative and new that helps people in ways they haven’t been helped before. It’s a fun job.”

A single conversation can change your life

By Chareen B. Goodman, President, PMP®
Consulting By Goodman, Inc.
Check out their blog a
t http://consultingbygoodman.wordpress.com

The biggest challenge most people have when it comes to networking is answering the question: What Do You Do?

Isn’t it surprising that when we are presented with an opportunity to express our value, we don’t really know how to answer this question without making someone’s eyes glaze over. We either get tongue tied or start talking the technical jargon of our work rather than the uniqueness of our value.

I believe the key to answering this question is to know what it is that you want people to know about you. What makes you unique, interesting and memorable? What demonstrates your value in the best light?

Consider for a moment that a single conversation can change your life because in every conversation is a miracle waiting to happen. If you were to set an intention to cause a miracle, what would you say? As an attorney, what is it about you and your profession that makes it compelling, fun, and informative?

Recently, I was having coffee with a partner of a Chicago law firm, and I was fascinated by her and her role as an estate planner. Through our conversation I became very interested in how she came into her role, what she loved about her job and the way she helps people. You know what I thought after our conversation? “I know who I would recommend if someone needed an estate planner.”

Each of us has a way to share our career story in a unique and passionate way that will resonate with people we meet. The goal is to generate a conversation that will touch, move and inspire someone and allow you to spark a connection that will grow into one that is mutually beneficial.

Here are a few examples to get you started on answering the question: What do you do?

Depending upon where I am and who I’m networking with, I might use my creative side and express my passion for business ideation.

  • “I create fun and play in people’s mind. As a business ideation coach and strategist, I work with teams to stimulate insightful solutions to tough business problems.”

Or perhaps I’m networking with executives and I want to strike up a conversation about my consulting practice. I could say:

  • “I create corporate heroes. I run a project management and business transformation consultancy that helps organizations attain a more profitable future through the power of project management, strategy and execution.”

One of my favorite openers align with my overall mission in life:

  • “I give people life with my voice. I’m a professional speaker and writer and currently I’m doing a lot on the subject of how to ignite transformation through the power of project management, strategy and execution.”

Now it’s your turn. Good luck! Remember, a single conversation can change your life. Be ready to have it.