Monthly Archives: November 2009

Job Search Strategies: fortitude is what you need

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

A colleague received a job offer this week for a position she has been pursuing for two years. The offer came from a law firm where she worked as a clerk during law school. Her perseverance finally paid off. Her satisfaction is profound.

This situation is a reflection of the current economy and of the career difficulties that lawyers, like everyone else, are going through. But it reminds me that you have to go after what you want with unflagging fortitude. I know, those sound like solemn words for just a job search, but they are apt words.

My colleague had a positive work record with the law firm as a clerk before applying for work there as an associate. She knew the managers and her peers well. She knew the processes and rules of the place. When she applied for a permanent position at an on campus interview as a third year, she was told there was not a position for her at that time, but that she should keep in contact. It took fortitude to overcome her discouragement at being told every couple of months since then that there was still no position for her and to keep trying.

My friend had specifically decided to be a “court lawyer like Jack McCoy” from a very young age and this position was exactly what she wanted. In fact, it was the only position she wanted. The words, “stay in contact” were all she needed to hear. And she did that for two years. She stayed in contact while she tended bar, worked as a waitress and did contract document review work, sometimes concurrently.

There were low times, when she forgot about wanting to be a lawyer, rued going to law school and generally put the whole lawyer thing out of her mind. But, curiously, doing document review work reminded her of what she really wanted and she drew new energy from that mundane task. Her efforts paid off this week and a newly energized attorney will be out there, pursuing her career desire. I am pretty sure her strong desire will impel her to make things a little bit better while she does so.

Take heed of the moral of this story. Keep at it, keep pushing, don’t give up, use your contacts, use the phone, use the mail, but don’t be robbed of what or who, you really want to be. There are many stories like this one out there, and yours could be one of them.



Q & A with Michael Conway

Michael Conway, a partner at Foley & Lardner, was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1973. Other than an 8-month stint as a Watergate lawyer for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in Washington, he has been a litigator concentrating on commercial, media and First Amendment and federal tax litigation since 1974 first with Hopkins & Sutter, and since 2001 with Foley & Lardner.

What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

As a trial lawyer, I am always learning new things.  In my legal career, I have learned how investigative journalism uncovers and reports important news about everything from terrorist plots to medical practices, how major airports and airport terminals in Denver, Miami and Chicago are planned and built, how corporate mergers are negotiated and valued, and how President Richard Nixon committed offenses leading to his resignation.  The people I have met, and hopefully helped, are fascinating.  In what other career could I met and worked with Muhammad Ali or Sam Donaldson.  The legal system is a daunting challenge for most people and helping people protect their legal rights in our system is ultimately the most interesting aspect of my practice.

What makes a good lawyer?

Good judgment makes a good lawyer.  Many lawyers have mastered the technical aspects of practicing law and are very good at it.  But that just makes them good technicians.  What clients need is sound advice and good judgment.  Good lawyers see all of the possibilities and most importantly the consequences of selecting one option or another.  Our clients frequently seek our help during times of intense personal or professional uncertainty and stress. A good lawyer remains clear-headed and able to assess the client’s predicament in an objective fashion.  This allows counsel to provide practical, understandable, prompt advice and helpful guidance.  Prompt is important — the best advice in the world is of no benefit if it comes too late.

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

The biggest legal news is the challenge of providing meaningful training and career paths to younger lawyers.  With the necessary emphasis in all law firms on more rigorous business practices and client development, the key mentoring role — which has been a hallmark since Abraham Lincoln studied law in a law office —  tends to be minimized or even discarded.  When I began practicing law, I not only had mentors and role models, but more experienced lawyers took the time for hands-on training.  Today, it is much tougher for a younger lawyer to have the opportunity to participate in a jury trial or argue an appeal or event interact directly with an important client. The impact will be serious and adverse on our profession.  Newer lawyers are not only be stunted in their professional growth, but also have less chance to receive the training and appreciation of the craft of a trial lawyer from accomplished lawyers in the field.


A great set of references

Sandra J. Bishop, president of Executive Solutions, is an executive coach and career strategist.

Now you have gotten closer to the end game and received a job offer.  What next?  The next make-or-break step is to furnish your prospective employer with a great set of references.

For most attorneys, most of the time, references are not a problem.  It is great to be well thought of.  I bet you are — almost all of the time — and are by everyone!  But, when you are being “referenced,” you want to make absolutely sure that your colleagues are giving the right impression of you.

When you begin a job search under typical conditions, one of the first things to do is get your references in line.  On this sheet of paper, include the full name proper spelling of each name, the person’s title, complete contact information, your relationship to this person and the dates you have worked for or with this individual.  Your references can be past or present.  If you take some effort, you will quickly develop a list of pertinent professionals whose enthusiasm you have tested and re-stimulated either in person or by phone.

Remember to ask for a references and not a job.

If you screen the list of potentials, you will quickly find out who is in your corner, and who is indifferent.  It’s fair to say from the start you will know precisely who you want prospective employers to speak with.  Do not accompany your resume with a list of references.  It simply is not done that way.  When you are very close to getting a job offer, or have the offer in hand, you will be asked for your references.  You will generally be asked for three to five references, one is personal – the remaining of which are professional.

Remember, your references will appreciate you teeing them up with a specific description of the company and position you have been offered, what the responsibilities will be, what are your greatest strengths, why you are a good fit for the job and finally what weaknesses you may have.

Please, thoroughly prepare references using the above paragraphs as a guide for specific conversation points.  When it comes to weaknesses, a great response is always that you “work too hard,” you are a “perfectionist” in your work, or that you set “too high expectations” for yourself.

Remember, the people you have chosen as references really feel enthusiastic the first or second time you use them.  If they are called upon more and more, their enthusiasm wanes and they become almost apathetic.  They also start to wonder (shame on them) why you have not landed a job sooner.  A way around this dilemma is to have a reasonably lengthy list of references teed up to extol your praises!

Remember, your perspective employer wants to know how great you are today; not how fabulous you were yesterday!

Good luck!

Hospital emergency department dedicated to lawyer

St.  Anthony Hospital, a community hospital serving residents of Chicago’s west and southwest sides, recently dedicated its emergency department to Peter V. Fazio Jr., partner and past managing partner and chairman of Schiff Hardin, and his wife, Patti.

Fazio has served on the board of directors of St. Anthony Hospital since 1995 and was elected chair of the board in 1999.

“Peter’s many contributions have helped lead us to the success we are experiencing today,” said Guy A. Medaglia, president and chief executive officer of  St.  Anthony Hospital, in a recent news  release.

In July, the hospital separated from the nation’s largest Catholic health-care provider, Ascension Health, and struck out on its own. In December 2008, the hospital opened its new emergency department.

“In large part, it is because of Peter’s exceptional commitment and tenacity that St.  Anthony Hospital is so well-positioned for the future,” Medaglia said in a news  release. “For example, when the negotiations were ongoing for St. Anthony Hospital to become a stand-alone, faith-based, Catholic community hospital, Peter was the one we counted on to handle many of the late-night phone calls and follow-up on the many details to make sure everything was on track.”

This honor, Fazio said, is very important to him.

“[The hospital] is very important for the communities that it serves,” he said. “It tries to really take care of the everyday health needs.”

He said his work with the hospital goes hand-in-hand with his firm’s focus on pro bono work. For lawyers on the corporate and business side one of the best ways to do pro bono work is by helping businesses.

Job Search Strategies: Persistence

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

I had forgotten how important it is to focus and to persevere when you are on a job search.  Some people pick out a group of law firms, companies, or government organizations where they think they could put their talents and experience to best use, and target them exclusively in their job search plan.  If you are doing a more expedient approach and are answering want ads, you still have to develop and stay with your plan. Once you have set up your plan, whatever it is, you have to work it in a disciplined and persistent manner.

The benefit of narrowing down the list of places where you want to work is that you can conduct more thorough research about the respective organization and make contacts that will eventually get you in the door.  Once you do get an interview, you will be more knowledgeable about the organization and its values and will be able to speak convincingly about why you want to work there.

At one time I identified a particular company I thought would be the very best place to work, to apply and grow my skills.  A mutual friend arranged an introduction to one of the vice presidents of the company.  The executive told me that I could contact her about possible positions there, even though they had no appropriate job open at the time.

I sent in my resume, letter and work sample.  For the next 18 months I called her intermittently, often being able to talk only to her assistant and gatekeeper, Dottie.  Dottie became a good friend over the telephone.  I was always careful to be polite and very sensitive to her time pressures.  She was kind and professional, but as we got to know each other we discussed many things, her work, my work, our families and what her boss was working on.

After a year and a half, one day Dottie put me through to the executive I had been contacting.  She gave me wonderful news.  Come in to talk about working with her, not necessarily in a permanent position, but for a special assignment, I assumed to test my abilities.

Soon I was given that special assignment to work on.  The project involved a reworking of the organizational structure. No headcount had been allocated for the project and the re-structuring was not popular with the people working there but it had a huge span of contacts, as it required coordination among several key executives and divisions.

Following the implementation of the project, I was hired on a permanent basis and went on to have a very long and successful run at that Fortune 500 company.  Dottie and I stayed friends, talking occasionally.  To this day I believe I owe that great career job to her patience, luck and my persistence.

Q & A with Robert W. Boyle

Robert W. Boyle, an associate at Shefsky & Froelich, has practiced for a little over a year and handles general corporate and securities matters.

What makes a good lawyer?

Early on, a colleague advised that a successful securities lawyer must implement methods designed to ensure that every detail, no matter how small, is adequately addressed.  I am continually reminded that it is virtually impossible to be too diligent.

What do you find the most interesting about practicing law?

Every day presents new and unique challenges.  Fortunately, the skills and knowledge developed while tackling one challenge are available when addressing subsequent challenges.  Over time, it becomes clear that seemingly distinct areas of the law are, in fact, interconnected.

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

A comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system would be of obvious importance to corporate and securities lawyers.  On a separate note, I think that many lawyers are monitoring the fallout from Judge Rakoff’s decision to reject the SEC’s proposed settlement with Bank of America.

Creating a strong resume

Sandra J. Bishop, president of Executive Solutions, is an executive coach and career strategist.

Last time, we did a deep dive on chronological resumes.

This week we will cover the functional resume.  If you are considering switching professions or industries, re-entering after a work gap, or have just received a degree in an area that you have never had any work experience, the functional resume is for you!

Why?  If developed correctly, it will identify and aggregate those skills, functions or experience that you want to highlight as you transition anew.

The functional resume will focus on skills specific to the type of position desired.  This resume is designed to convince the prospective employer that you possess those skills that will be useful in the career and position you are applying for.  Past work experiences may be viewed by prospective employers as irrelevant, unless your transferable skills are clearly identified and transition well into the new position.

The style of a functional resume is below:

First begin with a career summary.  This  summary should run no longer than 100 words and describes your industry, experience, expertise, personal strengths, any distinctive qualities and education.  (See my last blog.)

Secondly, an objective is essential.  State emphatically the type of position you are looking for.

The next section is perhaps the most important part of the functional resume.  State your area of expertise (i.e. contract law, medical malpractice, divorce law, child custody, general litigation, investment banking, corporate finance, etc.).  Under each  header, you list your most successful accomplishments in each area quantifying (when possible)  using a $, % or #.  As you will notice, dates are not used in this section.

For example:

Employment Law

• Litigated employment discrimination cases in federal/state court, including winning, as second chair, age-discrimination federal case brought by six prosecutors against Aurora, CO, District Attorney.

• Prosecuted employee-discipline cases in union-heavy city with 26,000 employees, interacting with management to maintain integrity of workplace by ensuring that discipline sticks.

• Dispensed advice on employee counseling, discipline, terminations and wage issues.

Management/ Leadership

• Supervised junior attorneys and paralegal; previously supervised junior attorneys and investigators.

• Enlisted community involvement regarding concerns of families, women and children as Commissioner.

• Aurora, CO Commission on the Status of Women; facilitated community “speak ups” as committee member.

• Established Courtroom Advocate Program for victims of sexual assault as member of Association for Women Attorneys,  Denver, CO.

Follow the above with a brief section on professional history.   List name(s) of your company and positions held, with dates of employment.

After education is listed, you can end by stating any significant professional associations, all legal licenses and military service.

The functional resume may come off confusing and may make the employer suspicious of your intentions, but if done correctly, it can really pack a punch!  Don’t be afraid if it serves your purposes well.  While it is not commonly used, it can be just as effective — especially in the current environment — where many employers are becoming more open to change.

See you next time!