Monthly Archives: August 2009

Job search strategy: One more about interviews

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

Several colleagues have mentioned lately that they experienced a “panel” interview.  That is, they were interviewed by a group of people, either potential work associates or a mix of superiors and associates.  In one case, the job seeker was confronted with a group of associates and supervising attorneys, five in all, who asked her “pressure” questions.  Would she be able to handle an A-type environment?  High performance expectations?  A heavy workload?  She came out of the interview fairly apprehensive, not knowing whether she wanted the job, or could work comfortably for this company!

Another colleague was interviewed by a group of future co-workers and the meeting was more of a discussion about the ins and outs of litigation, what courts he had appeared in, what types of cases, what resolutions had been achieved.  The interviewee actually felt comfortable.  He related that this type of interview technique was beneficial in that it allowed the associates to gauge whether they would be able to work well with the job candidate and that it also gave the job seeker a chance to preview the work environment and type of people with who he would be working.

The first example I consider a “stress” interview and I wonder if the purpose behind this type of interview is to create a situation where the candidate is put on the spot to see how he or she responds to that type of stress.  Maybe it works.  But keep in mind that a firm that favors this type of interview may harbor an antagonistic working environment.

The second example seemed to my friend a good way for both sides of the table to explore whether they could work well together and to learn about one another as a group. Maybe that works.

One of the challenges of this type of interview is that often, the interviewers start asking questions or making comments at the same time and it is difficult to keep your answers organized — you end up being the one trying to maintain order.  And sometimes it is difficult to tell who the decision-maker is and you run the danger of addressing your answers to someone who is not the decision-maker.

Panel interviews can be irritating, creating an imbalance of power, and I don’t respond well to them.  But apparently they are popular now and not all interviewees dislike them.  I remember having an interview at a drug company years ago where I was asked, no doubt because of my sunny demeanor, whether I had ever had to do “anything difficult” in my life.  Whatever, as they say.  The thing to do was covered in a prior week’s blog, be prepared.  Expect you might be faced with a panel interview, picture it and prepare for it. And don’t get irritated.

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Q & A with Mark A. Pals

Mark A. Pals is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. He focuses his practice on intellectual property trials and appeals. He represents clients in a wide range of patent, trade secret, unfair competition and other IP cases.

This is his 20th anniversary as a lawyer.  He went to college intending to be a doctor and spent several years after college in a combined M.D./Ph.D. program.  He completed his Ph.D. in biophysics, but decided to go to law school rather than continue in medicine.  He said he started thinking about patent litigation in law school and got hooked on it when he started at Kirkland.  He said it provides a terrific mix of complex factual, technical and legal issues.

What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

I get to do some incredible, exciting things in my practice. From the moment I start thinking about a case, my focus is on developing the story that I will present to the jury.  There is nothing like standing up in front of a jury at trial. It is remarkable. But the most interesting aspect of my practice is probably the people I have worked with — and sometimes against — over the years.  I have represented, examined and cross-examined some of the most fascinating and brilliant scientists in the world.

In one case, I worked with an inventor who escaped from Nazi concentration camps twice, each time returning to the French underground.  One Nobel Prize winner was so offended by the positions the other side was taking that he refused to accept any compensation for his work on the case.  One of the highlights of my career has been representing and getting to know Ed Southern, the inventor of the Southern blot and DNA arrays.  He has since been knighted and has won every scientific award there is except the Nobel Prize (as of today).  Last I checked, he still rode his bike to work.

What makes a good lawyer?

It takes a long list of ingredients to make a good lawyer.  Obviously, all good lawyers are smart, hard-working and committed to their clients.  But I think common sense, creativity and the ability to relate to people are the characteristics that really set the top lawyers apart.  Each of these characteristics involves more “street smarts” than “book smarts,” and each is critical to what we do, especially in court.  These traits allow the best lawyers to assess, develop and present a winning trial story.

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

If you include legislative action, I would put health care reform at the top of the list. Its specific impact will depend on the form of the package that is ultimately passed, but it is sure to be dramatic. As a patent litigator, I am closely watching some of the patent discussions that have worked their way into the health care debates. The patent system has played a critical role in encouraging the significant investments that pharmaceutical and biotech companies make in developing new products, and I believe it’s important for those incentives to remain in place.

A dream team

By Josh Wolff

While the “dream team” that Kyle Matthews, in-house counsel for Tellabs, Inc., assembled for litigation didn’t quite garner the same attention that the 1992 United States men’s basketball team with the same name did, Matthews’ team nonetheless shared similar success.

Matthews was representing Tellabs in a wage-hour class action suit and soon enlisted the help of veteran employment litigator James W. Gladden, Jr., of Mayer Brown; consider this move the equivalent an off-season free agent acquisition in sports. Despite the duo, Matthews still wanted an independent examination of the case and solicited Kevin Connelly, of counsel of the labor & employment practice group at Drinker Biddle & Reath.

“We already had a playoff ready team … we knew we had a team that was going to put on a great case,” said Matthews, a former collegiate baseball player at Brigham Young University and youth baseball coach. “You often want to get a second opinion, and when you are talking about the risks of class-action litigation, it behooves you to make sure you are not too close to the case and receive an independent view of case.”

After Connolly examined the case, Matthews decided he didn’t just want his view solely from afar on the case, but rather he now wanted Connolly on his litigation team. And Connolly joined; consider this move the equivalent of a mid-season trade acquisition in sports.

“After Kevin joined, he took us from that playoff team to a world series contender,” Matthews said.

With his “dream team” established, Matthews said he felt more confident moving forward defending Tellabs. Matthews and his legal team traversed the trend of settling wage-hour class actions and instead decided to go to trial. Usually, companies prefer to settle these class actions because of the immense risks associated with the trials and the sheer volume of similar class actions.

“Different articles in the legal press would describe wage-hour litigation as a tsunami or flood,” said Connolly, also a girl’s basketball coach at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. “The numbers are astronomical and growing.”

He cites two studies from two different law firms as further evidence. One study by Littler Mendelson reported 1,985 wage-hour class/collective actions and in a six-month period in 2008 nationwide while Seyfarth Shaw reported this year that wage-hour class actions are “increasing exponentially.”

But despite the risks of a trial, Matthews prepared to represent Tellabs in court. At the heart of the contention in the case were the ramifications of Tellabs’ decision to mandate five shortened work-weeks with corresponding reduced salaries for all exempt employees – employees whose jobs are paid by an annual salary and whose job duties as executives, professionals, or administrators make them exempt from overtime.

According to the former Tellabs engineer who filed the lawsuit, the reductions in salary from the mandatory days off allowed all 2,900 of the exempted employees to be eligible for overtime status.

Tellabs disagreed and was in a perilous time financially and needed to align costs and revenues, Matthews said. Furthermore, the obligatory days off should not have forfeited the employees overtime exemption, he said.

“The action that Tellabs took at the time was right,” Matthews said. “They considered the various options they could to save money, but this was an unprecedented time economically.”

Connolly said Tellabs performed nearly a dozen other cost-cutting measures, including cancellation of almost all business travel, freezes on salary increases, significant salary cuts for both the CEO and senior managers, but the measures still weren’t enough.

“As the sales continued to drop [after the initial cost-cutting measures were implemented], they decided to institute the reduced workweeks,” Connolly said. “It was not a first choice and came late into the game after other measures were simply not enough.”

The trial ensued, and the court’s decision in Robinson, et al v. Tellabs Inc., ruled in favor of Tellabs with the Illinois Appellate Court affirming the ruling. Matthews said his “dream team’s” victory in court demonstrated the need for a bold litigation strategy.

When asked what advice he has for a company going through something like this, Matthews said, “No. 1, assemble the best team you can. Second, develop a play book. You’ve got to know the facts of the law backward and forward. Third, you  need to have a vision of success and what a definition for victory looks and feels like. Fourth, I would advise you to get your team assembled to share your vision. And lastly, go out to play to win.”

A novelty of this case was hiring attorneys from two different law firms, but Matthews said experience should always supersede employment.

“You are looking for talent,” he said. “You hire the lawyer first, the firm second. We were looking for litigators in this case that had a certain subject matter expertise, which both Jim [Gladden] and Kevin [Connelly] did.”

Despite the potential for friction arising when attorneys from different firms work together, those episodes never occurred. Connolly credits Gladden, who also doubles as a youth football coach in Evanston, and his team-first attitude.

“It was very easy for Jim and I to work well together,” Connolly said. “He understood that the name on the front of the jersey [Tellabs] was more important than the name on the back of the jersey.”

Job search strategy: Interviewing

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

After each interview you go home and wait for the “next step.”  Eventually you achieve your goal of getting an offer and get busy getting acclimated to your new job, and never give the interview a second thought.

But more often than not, you either don’t hear back from the interviewer or you receive a short “your qualifications are outstanding but no thanks” response and feel as though you are starting all over again.  Here is a critical issue — more than likely it is not your fault. You will not help yourself by examining your answers, your gestures, your demeanor, over and over again. You will just torment yourself.

Try to get the interviewer to tell you why you were not selected for the job.  If they do, they have given you a wonderful gift that will help you in preparation for the next interview.  But generally they will not tell you this and you are left to surmise on your own.

Don’t over analyze the interview experience.  Take some time to review the meeting.  Think about your answers and see where you can improve on what was said.  Do this promptly after the interview while the meeting is clear in your mind.  It helps to write down any unexpected questions and formulate a good answer for future interviews.  Decide what, if anything, you need to improve and then work on that and you are done.  Dwelling on what you might think was the deal breaker in the interview will not help you.  It will just lower your confidence, so why agonize over it.

Shortly after being admitted to the Illinois bar I applied to an ad for a Spanish-speaking associate that a colleague pointed out to me in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.  I met with the hiring partner and after some pleasant conversation about law school, and life in general, he offered me the job on the spot.  I had seen several other people in the outer office waiting to be interviewed, so I was surprised at being offered the job that quickly.

It turned out to be a very busy practice, with a large number of cases in a variety of areas of law.  I was immediately immersed in it and got to know the clients very quickly, received many referrals and only left when I had to move out of state.  A couple of months after I was hired, I asked the partner what it was about me that made him offer me the job so quickly.  He responded that if someone could go to law school full time, work full time and take care of a family, they could handle the very busy caseload in his office and relate well to the clients.

So you see, who would have guessed — the pace, workload and intense client contact of the position was never mentioned in the ad or the interview. This attorney wanted an independent associate who could work quickly and maintain excellent client relations. Had I not asked I never would have known why I was hired.

There are so many factors involved in picking a person for a job that trying to guess why you were not made an offer is most often fruitless. So, go do something more productive and get over it!

Hinshaw event on ethics

Hinshaw & Culbertson and the Lesbian & Gay Bar Association of Chicago sponsored an ethics presentation in August related to reporting misconduct.

About 15 lawyers attended, and this was the first time the law firm’s LGBT affinity group and the Chicago organization teamed up for an event.

The topic of reporting misconduct is one of particular interest to lawyers, said Tom Sukowicz, a Hinshaw partner who helped organize the event. Much material was covered, and discussion involved the new rules that come into play starting Jan. 1, he said.

One interesting question was if a lawyer doesn’t think he or she needs to report something to the ARDC, and the client goes ahead and reports it, does the ARDC think that lawyer should have automatically reported it? The answer, Sukowicz said, is no.

“Everyone in the world can report it, but that doesn’t create a duty on you,” he said.

Sukowicz said his firm’s affinity group was pleased to sponsor the event, but question whether the timing for the event could have been better aligned with when lawyers need to get their ethics credits.

The affinity group started about a year ago at Hinshaw. The firm has made continued push to promote diversity, and one way to do that is through creating affinity groups, he said.

So in addition to creating an event geared to ethics, it also encourages diversity within the legal community, Sukowicz said.

One of our event speakers

Don Brown, of Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth, will be one of our speakers at our Wednesday event. He took some time to answer our questions.

What do you hope people learn from your presentation?

I would hope that the attendees appreciate that in order to survive in this legal market, it is necessary to be adaptable.  Too often, people may focus too narrowly in what they are willing to do.  Being open to diverse opportunities is essential.

What advice do you have for unemployed lawyers?

I suggest that each unemployed lawyer network with everyone they know associated in any way in the legal profession, people in government, courts, businesses and firms.  Be flexible enough in planning to pick the brains of all potential sources of information.

How can trial lawyers make themselves more marketable in this economy?

You must have confidence that the skills you have developed can be adapted to a large variety of scenarios.  Be a salesman of your skills and be prepared to retool if necessary.

If some unemployed lawyers want to work together to create their own firm, what advice do you have for building a firm?

Starting a firm is extremely challenging.  There are a number of matters that must be considered and hopefully certain characteristics can be shared among the attorneys you are planning to join.  Some are: compatibility of goals and expectations; sense of cooperation and sacrifice; ability to compromise; and a sense of humor. Like a marriage, the three “Cs” are most important:  commitment, compromise and communication.

Q&A with Cynde Hirschtick Munzer

Cynde Hirschtick Munzer is a senior partner in the business organizations and transactions group at 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.

What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

Being able to problem solve for my clients in a broad variety of areas. My practice is diverse in terms of the nature of my clients’ businesses, as well as the type of matters that I am able to handle for them. During the past couple decades of practicing law, I have acquired a broad depth of expertise handling a wide range of business transactions on behalf of clients engaged in various industries, including energy, construction, financial services, publishing and health care.   Also, since my firm is full service and offers essentially “one stop shopping,” this gives me the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues at the firm in other practice areas in order to help solve a broad spectrum of matters for my clients.

Because of our firm’s size and level of expertise, we are able to handle some large, sophisticated transactions.  For example, last summer, I was fortunate enough to be involved in handling two of the largest transactions in the Chicago area.  First, I was a part of the Arnstein & Lehr team serving as local counsel to the successful bidder in its $2.3 billion bid for the privatization of Midway Airport.  I also served as lead attorney for the documentation lender in the Huron Consulting syndication loan totaling $230 million, in which several of the city’s largest lenders participated.

Also, Chicago is a great place to be a lawyer. It is “my kind of town” for practicing law, particularly in this economic climate.   Here in Chicago we are not dependent upon one particular industry as many cities are.  Instead, we enjoy a wide variety of businesses in various sectors, as well as numerous large corporations with headquarters in the Chicago area.    More law firms based outside of Chicago have been recognizing the opportunities here, and have been increasingly opening offices or expanding in Chicago in recent years.

What makes a good lawyer?

Common sense mixed with some creativity, hard work, tenacity, empathy and a good sense of humor!  It is also important to be responsive and able to quickly act and react when your clients come to you with questions or concerns. You could be the most brilliant lawyer in the world, but if you are not available for your clients when they need you to focus on their needs, it really does not matter. The importance of being responsive is underscored in this age of modern technology when everything moves so quickly.

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

Without a doubt, it’s the economy and the resulting legal ramifications on virtually all industries.   We have been working closely with our clients as they react to the changes that are rapidly occurring.   For example, I have counseled clients with regard to positioning themselves to receive stimulus funds, as well as advised them on gaining access to capital in order to finance new acquisitions or continue existing operations.

Many of the economic related seminars I have attended during the last few months conclude on a hopeful note with the speaker stating that these dire economic circumstances also create opportunities for those with vision.   Or, as they say, out of darkness, comes light.  The key is to work with your clients to find and maximize these opportunities and hopefully see the light!