Monthly Archives: October 2010

Self-assessment: first steps in identifying your attorney brand

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA, Inc., a full service law practice management agency.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing.  Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Self-assessment is a tool you can use to develop your brand and market your credentials, experience and skills sets.  Many attorneys pause and think when asked to describe their professional services brand.  Attorney branding is the process by which your personal and professional attributes are received and recalled by others.  Have you ever heard someone ask for an attorney referral by describing the desired characteristics of the perfect match to the client’s needs?

Self-assessment begins with the honest examination of your past professional, academic and personal achievements and struggles.  Sometimes we experience tunnel vision in law and forget about our most obvious strengths and weaknesses.  Our strengths can often be inferred from compliments.  At times, we receive compliments and brush them off, trying to maintain a sense of humility.  It is a challenge to accept and learn from compliments.  Accepting and thanking others for their comments we moves us closer to learning how to objectively assess how we are received by others.

Continue your assessment by making a list of activities you least enjoy.  This exercise may help you avoid certain practice areas where you know you will be unhappy.  It isn’t news that we perform best when we enjoy our work.  Next, try reading your resume out loud to yourself, imagining that you are talking about your education and experience in an interview setting.  In your mirror, or pretend audience, describe a few times you have taken pride in some accomplishments.  Write down those accomplishments and focus on why you think you were successful.  As you highlight credentials and experiences on your resume you have the opportunity to market your attorney brand.

Social networking sites contain plenty of assessment clues.  If you are on LinkedIn, take a look at your recommendations and note a few of the qualities others have noticed and considered when supporting you by making the recommendation.  Similarly, take a look at the type of compliments you receive using other social media, what do people “like” about you?  Consider this when you review your friends and contacts’ impressions of you and why they would recommend you as an attorney.

You can also take self-assessment to the next step and engage with a business coach with assessment software.  One of my clients is a business coach and I took her assessment as part of a leadership management course.  As I reviewed the assessment results, I experienced a feeling of reinforcement that my work habits complimented my skills and habits.

The process of personal and professional self-discovery is ongoing.  At many stages in our careers we have the opportunity to reflect on the past.  By revisiting the past we can gauge our progress as we move forward in our career transitions.  Self-assessment is a tool to uncovering your potential and most salient skills necessary to landing the next client or job.

Meet one of the speakers

Jill Lerner, director of marketing and placement at Providus, will be speaking at our next Attorneys in Transition event on Nov. 3. She took some time to answer a few of our questions.

What do you hope to discuss at the Attorneys in Transition event?

I hope to discuss not only the insight and knowledge that I have gained about the legal market and career transition through my experiences in the legal recruiting industry, but also what I have learned from own personal transition.  In the past three years,  I left the practice of law – began a career in legal recruiting, was laid off, and struggled to find my next position.  I have learned a lot working in legal staffing, but not as much as I learned having been an attorney in transition personally.

What is the best piece of advice you have for lawyers going through a career transition?

As hard as it is to do, try not to get discouraged.  It is normal and very much OK to feel frustrated and even hopeless at times, but you have to stay at it and be as aggressive on day 30 of your search as you were on day 1.

How can lawyers work together during these tough economic times?

Openness to networking and connecting is so important.  As attorneys, either in transition or gainfully employed, it is important to be open to even casual or informational conversation and connections.

Why is networking so important?

No resume will sell you as well as you can sell yourself.  Sometimes meeting the right person at the right time can lead to an opportunity that you (and even the potential employer) never knew existed.  Moreover, meeting somebody in person makes it easier to follow up/stay in touch and be in the know with respect to future opportunities.

View from the Classroom: The courts as educators

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.

With the beginning of its new term earlier this month, the Supreme Court took an exciting step toward judicial openness and transparency: it started posting audio files of its oral arguments on its website soon after it heard them.  Although the Court has quickly posted transcripts in recent years, and older audio files are readily available through sites like oyez.org, this most recent move allows students of the Court to hear the cadence, tone, and nuance in this Term’s arguments — the subtleties that only audio can reveal — and thus better to study the Court in real time.  This could allow attorneys, law students, advocacy groups, and the general public to gain greater insight into the current thinking of the justices and the current workings of the Court.

In short, the move is a small (but important) step toward realizing the full educative function of the judiciary.

In a democracy, courts don’t just resolve disputes; they educate.  Just as the political branches are — or ought to be — in a constant feedback loop with constituents, one educating the other in the broader interest of advancing the best ideas and policies, courts too ought to engage and educate the public.  This is important because courts rely on an informed public for their own legitimacy.  (Courts famously do not have armies to enforce their judgments.  Instead, they rely on the public’s confidence, which, in turn, is a function of the public’s education.)  But more: Courts teach us about our democracy.  They tell us how to resolve disputes under our system of law; they tell us how they relate to the other branches of government and private actors; they even tell us how we can take political action when we’re unhappy with their decisions.  It may sound hyperbolic, but they teach us how to be full citizens in a democracy.

There’s a real thirst for this kind of education.  Activists have long pushed for real-time broadcasts of Supreme Court oral arguments and other federal and state court proceedings.  Bar associations and public education groups have promoted freer publication of judicial opinions and court documents on the Internet.  A throng of reporters and bloggers now follow the courts.  It’s not just attorneys, law students, and interest groups who pay attention; it’s also the public.

But courts have been slow to respond.  Federal courts have taken only modest steps to publicize their proceedings, and they’re frustratingly uneven in publishing opinions on their websites.  Some state courts do better with publicity (as in high-profile trials and appellate arguments broadcast on television or the web), but they, too, are inconsistent in releasing opinions for public consumption.  Written opinions by all courts can be a good source for public education, but even when they are well reasoned they are too often inaccessible to non-lawyers.  With all the media available today, the business of the judiciary remains remarkably murky for most.

This can lead to great public frustration.  For example, in states where sitting judges are up for election, some promote a blanket rejection of incumbents — to vote them all out.  Others have sought alternative outlets for their frustration.  For example, just recently WATCH, a group “bringing a public eye to justice,” gained attention for sending judicial monitors into courtrooms with conspicuous red clipboards.  One Minnesota judge complained about bullying and intimidation by the group; he now faces an ethics investigation by the state board of judicial standards.

The public is calling out for a good and open judiciary — for the courts to act as educators — but the courts aren’t fully responding.

The Supreme Court’s move this term is a step in the right direction.  But the courts can do much more, especially with the variety of media available today.  Most simply, federal courts could adopt uniform standards and practices for publishing their opinions freely on the web.  State courts, too, could publish their opinions more widely and with better organization, better accessibility.  Even these very modest steps would dramatically improve the courts’ educative function.

We can do more, too — especially those of us in the profession.  We can push the courts for greater openness and transparency, and we can report on, criticize, and even compliment the courts to help them educate the public.  We all have a lot to learn, and to share, from our courts; and we can help them in their role as educators.

This Just In: How not to get a job

Bart Scagnelli is a 2L at Loyola University Chicago.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Iowa, where he concentrated in creative writing.  Bart was born and raised in the Chicago area, where he now resides.

It‘s no secret that the legal job market leaves something to be desired for law students and recent graduates.  We hear about it from everyone; family, friends, professors, recent graduates, and each other.  And in case you didn’t get the memo, there are an abundance of blogs, websites, and disillusioned lawyers roaming the streets that have devoted a significant portion of their existence to ensuring that each and every law student knows just how dismal our prospects for future employment may be.  But in these discouraging times, I would like to offer some much needed words of resistance: don’t dwell on it.

I learned long ago that going on a job interview is a lot like a first date.  You get dressed up, give yourself a pep talk, and then spend an hour or two talking with someone you barely know about what you are doing with your life.  And the person on the other side of the table, be it an employer or your date, (hopefully not both), is paying a lot of attention to your personality and behavior.  They are not only thinking about what you are saying, but how you say it.  And why do I make this comparison?  Because employers, like dates, dig confidence.

Like it or not, our conscious and subconscious insecurities have a way of making themselves known.  They sneak their way into our facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, and other social cues.  And these subtleties have a powerful effect on how we are identified and perceived by others, especially employers.  One way to guarantee yourself some insecurity is to spend a lot of time drawing pessimistic conclusions about your ability to get a job.  Sure, we need to be practical and realistic about our futures, but there is a point at which spending time and energy worrying about the poor job market is going to get you nowhere and cost you a lot.  Literally.

The corrosive effect of a pessimistic approach to employment reaches beyond the confines of the interview.  Airing your dissatisfaction on the Internet or at a networking opportunity is not helping you either.  Sure, it can be healthy and therapeutic to express the frustration you feel, but there is a time and a place for everything.  These statements might elicit the sympathy of your audience, but it is not helping you to shape your identity as a confident, outgoing person headed for success.

A pessimistic approach to the job hunt can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It hurts one’s presentation to employers, and for some it diminishes their motivation to pursue opportunities in the first place.  So, the next time you see your thoughts or discussions on a crash course for that jobless, dystopian future everyone is so afraid of, I suggest changing the topic of conversation.  Instead, for a change, try talking about the privilege and excitement of participating in a profession that is so rich with intellectual substance and challenging ideas.  Remember that you study law because you love it, and, hey, there’s no turning back now anyways.

Job Search Strategies: socializing with co-workers

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

The best networker I ever met was a woman who owned her own business in a very competitive field and managed to stay afloat and bill very respectable numbers most years, through all types of economic conditions.  She had perfected the skill of making a friend of everyone she met.

Her warmth and interest in you were intense and genuine.  She quickly confided her professional challenges and her personal issues.  She elicited both sympathy for her struggles and admiration for her success in developing her business.  You were immediately taken into the fold and made to feel important, your contribution vital to her business.  We quickly became collaborators and close friends. Her skills were invaluable for the development of the business and essential for effective networking. She attracted  clients with the same skills she used to make me an ally.

For me, having just come from management positions in corporations, the encounter with the woman entrepreneur was a shock.  My stance had always been to keep a distance between myself and most of my co-workers — you never knew who would be managing who in the next few months.  It was a competitive environment and too much closeness could result in…what? Exposing weaknesses that could threaten your promotion opportunities? Who knows?

But socializing is a natural thing.  We are social beings, and we naturally seek social interaction, whether at work or in our free time.  Corporate management does not encourage socialization, even though there is a pervasive emphasis on so-called teamwork.  The concept of teamwork in a corporate setting is a tool to keep people working together for the benefit of the enterprise and has little to do with satisfying employees’ need for socialization.

Now, as an attorney, I socialize freely with many colleagues.  We go to events, have dinner and drinks, we share personal stories and concerns.  Most of us practice in different areas of the law, and even if we don’t, we feel free to talk about our work, within the boundaries of required confidentiality, of course.  There is a camaraderie and sense of the importance of our work that I did not experience in my business relationships in the past.

We freely share information about job opportunities and are able to help one another in many ways.  This is networking at its best, where friendships result in mutual professional advantage. And it is one more reason why I enjoy being a lawyer.

I have noticed that some attorneys can overstep.  In any work/social situation you have to be aware of interactions, of non-verbal indications, and refrain from inserting yourself into a social situation where you are not wanted.  Sounds rough, but it is true. There will be other groups where you are welcomed, look for those.

If you can make a friend with whom you have common interests, move your career along and have fun in the process, that is the ultimate networking experience.

Q&A with Sheryl Jaffee Halpern

Sheryl Jaffee Halpern, a principal at Much Shelist, counsels clients on a wide range of employment matters, providing clear, direct guidance designed to promote compliance with the law, while remaining cognizant of the practical workplace realities her clients face. She regularly conducts employment practices audits; oversees personnel management (including hiring, firing and reductions in force); conducts compliance training of management and rank-and-file personnel; creates employment policies and handbooks; prepares offer letters, employment agreements, restrictive covenants and separation agreements; implements performance management, discipline and discharge protocols; and investigates employee complaints and disciplinary matters.

How has the practice of law changed from when you first got into it?

Technology has made the practice of law significantly more fast-paced than it was back in 1993.  When I began my career, lawyers were not yet using e-mail, and faxes were considered high-tech.  The nearly universal use of e-mail and text messaging today has shortened my turn-around time and has enhanced my ability to respond to my clients’ needs quickly and efficiently.  This is particularly critical in my employment law practice, where my corporate clients often want to take immediate action that affects their relationship with their employees.  Providing prompt guidance that allows them to make quick, but educated, decisions helps them prevent disputes with employees and reduce exposure down the road.  The downside to technology is that it has diminished the amount of direct client contact attorneys have with their clients. In fact, at Much Shelist, attorneys are strongly encouraged to visit face-to-face with clients in order to mitigate the de-personalizing effects of technology.  In a relationship-driven business, it is important to make sure to stay in touch with clients in ways that don’t just involve a computer screen or a smartphone.

What advice do you have for law students?

Work on developing relationships – building strong, enduring relationships is what leads to success and satisfaction, both personally and professionally.  Recognize the potential in your peers – they may be your partners or your clients some day.  Be a giver – when you help someone succeed, it feels good, and they just may reciprocate.  Be accountable – do what you say you’re going to do, and do it to the best of your ability, and others will respect you and feel comfortable relying on you.

What are the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance?

Finding time to sleep!  In my best attempt to achieve work-life balance, I have developed the habit of waking up at around 5 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday so I can get work done before my kids wake up.  That way, I can feel that I’ve tackled what I need to get done and can give them my undivided attention without worrying about what may be in my briefcase.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Are you making time for face-time?

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.

Nowadays, there are so many ways to communicate with people that do not require face-to-face meetings, let alone getting out of a chair or using your voice. While we embrace new technologies and are thankful for how easy it is to connect with others, nothing can compare to the impact of talking to a reporter, client or prospect face-to-face.

The importance of face-to-face communication may seem to be fading fast, but next time you reach for the phone or your keyboard, consider logging some face-time with the following groups:

Media

Every day, reporters, editors and producers receive hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, telling them about this story and that angle. Instead of e-mailing a long pitch to a local reporter, ask about meeting at a nearby coffee shop where you can present your story and find out what the reporter typically looks for. Chances are the reporter is a coffee or tea drinker, so why not suggest a quick five-minute meeting to put a face to an e-mail address, and more importantly, see how you can help each other. This strategy can also work whenever you are traveling for business. Think about which reporters you’d like to connect with in the area you are traveling to, and suggest coffee or lunch meetings. Meeting media face-to-face can also increase the chance a reporter or producer responds to your phone call or email the next time you reach out virtually.

Prospects

When you are looking for new clients or potential clients are looking for you, you might send letters via “snail mail,” and they might look up your website. You might target certain Facebook groups while they might go on Yelp.com. One of the best ways to get in front of prospects is to literally, get in front of them. Every year, search your industry for potential speaking opportunities and events. Whether you work with program coordinators to sign you on as a speaker or simply sign up to attend the event, you will be put in a position to make strong face-to-face connections with others who could become clients and/or legal business alliances. Joining local organizations and frequently attending monthly meetings is another simple way to make sure people don’t forget your face – and the firm that employs your pretty/dashing mug.

Clients

Whether you’ve had a client for five years or five weeks, it’s easy to overlook in-person meetings since you are focused on getting results and making your client happy. However, making your client happy should include making time for them by meeting in-person. Some suggestions would be to hand-deliver birthday cupcakes to their office on their birthday or company anniversary, or set-up monthly lunches to review your work and plan. Also consider their interests and activities outside their day job. For example, if your client plays the guitar as a hobby and sets up a small gig at a local establishment, being in the audience should be a priority for you. Your client will appreciate you supporting him or her, plus you’ll get to enjoy the show! Sounds like a win-win to me.

Even though we’ve gone through a digital revolution and always wondering what will go “paperless” next, the art of communication is in the face-to-face. Making time for face-time is essential to foster stronger relationships and make you and your firm memorable in the long run.

View from the Classroom: Plain English

Steven D. Schwinn is an associate professor of law at The John Marshall Law School.

One of the most challenging tasks I can assign my law students is this:  State a knotty legal principle in plain English.

This seems surprising.  After all, we know they have the raw smarts: they successfully navigate all types of new and difficult issues in law school; surely they can translate law into plain English.  And we know they have the language skills: they used plain English perfectly well before coming to law school.

And yet this plain-English task bedevils my students starting from around the middle of their first semester through their third year.  Instead of using plain English, they speak in Legalese.  For example, they use complex sentences where simpler ones used to do.  They use large words where shorter ones used to work.  And most notably they use their newfound legal terms and phrases where lay language previously had to suffice (because they didn’t have anything else).  In short, they become rewired not to use plain English and instead to develop habits of Legalese.

My students don’t develop these habits on their own.  Instead, we teach them.  From the first day of law school, we teach students to talk this new language as part-and-parcel of their thinking this new way.  We measure their mastery of the law in part by their mastery of the language.  Students, quite understandably, accept this: they, too, can measure their success at “thinking like a lawyer” by how well they talk like one.  (In the first semester of law school, before exams, this is one of the very few, precious ways that law students can gauge their success.  It’s no wonder they use it with enthusiasm.)  Beyond law school, a good number of them (and a good number of us) carry these habits into practice for similar reasons: our skill at talking like a lawyer seems like a good proxy for thinking like one.

But there’s no inherent connection between talking like a lawyer and thinking like one.  In fact, we demonstrate mastery of a subject less by our skill with jargon than by our skill with plain language.  True understanding of a complicated subject is often best reflected by an ability to break it down into simple, straightforward, plain English.  Plain English, not Legalese, is the better tool for measuring students’ (and our) understanding of the law.

Our habits of Legalese also create problems beyond law school.  In practice these habits can impede effective communication with clients and other non-lawyers; they can even impede communication with other lawyers and judges.  And they often result in unnecessarily obscure laws, contracts, and other writings.  At their best these habits confuse and complicate; at their worst they alienate outsiders and privilege the insiders by guarding the profession against lay trespassers.  Again: plain English, not Legalese, is the better tool.

Good trial lawyers have always known this.  They have to present often complicated cases to lay audiences; they do this with plain English.  The best appellate advocates know this, too.  They are clear, concise, and plainspoken, even when presenting nuanced and sophisticated legal arguments.

Others are beginning to see the value of plain English.  Some states and the federal government often use it quite effectively in their laws and regulations.  Good judicial opinions seem to rely upon it more and more.  Even law professors are beginning to understand that they have to use it in their scholarship, especially if they want anyone to read and understand their work.  Notably, SCOTUSBlog, the go-to blog on the U.S. Supreme Court, earlier this year added a Plain English feature, cutting through Legalese and presenting the Court’s docket in plain English.

As educators, we can go a long way in promoting understanding of the law if we encourage plain English early and throughout law school.  And as practitioners, we can go a long way in promoting openness, transparency, and simplicity in the law with plain English.  So let’s ask our students and ourselves: How do you say it in plain English?

Inside Perspective: Dignity

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc.  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.

I remember a few years back listening to Bill Pollard speak about what made his business, The ServiceMaster Company successful.    ServiceMaster was recognized by many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune magazine and the Financial Times for its many successes.  You may remember that ServiceMaster was, at its most basic level, a janitorial service.  As such, it employed people who did the work that most of us would rather not even think about.  Bill Pollard also happens to be a lawyer.

Bill spoke about  how his company worked hard to recognize the contributions of the “lowly” janitor – the most basic part of the “who” who made up the ServiceMaster workforce.  He helped them understand that they were a respected member of the team, essential to the success of the company.  He greeted them in the morning and told them they were doing a great job.   As CEO, Bill made it the culture of this company to recognize the contribution of every worker, from the bottom to the top, but especially those at the “bottom,” who did the work that made the company what it was.

We as inside counsel are an integral part of creating and nurturing a culture of respect and dignity within our own companies (and quite frankly, beyond).  Generally, the inside counsel is looked upon as a respected member of the senior management team.  By this statement, written with true humility, I do not mean to elevate the lawyer beyond his or her due, but rather to simply recognize that we do occupy positions of influence within our companies.  Some of us influence the CEO, some of us influence the VP of Marketing and some of us influence the front line sales team or the purchasing departments.  No matter where our sphere of influence extends, we can do much to help our team members adopt a level of respect and an attitude of honor for those who are “below” them in the corporate food chain.  Each person within that food chain has an important job to do and if they do not do it correctly, the company will fail.

Pollard spoke of a famous cardiac surgeon, known for his high success rate and pioneering methods in  saving patients who would have been written off as lost causes by less talented doctors.  Needless to say this doctor who literally made life and death decisions every single day of his life could have had quite an ego.  However, Pollard told our small group about the day the doctor approached the ServiceMaster employee who was cleaning the operating room after one of his more difficult surgeries.  He asked the man his name, asked him about his family and his history and other aspects of his life.  Most importantly, the doctor thanked him for doing such a fine job in cleaning his operating room.  The doctor told the man that he (the doctor) could never do what he does, could never heal otherwise terminally ill people, could not save one life, without the excellence with which the simple janitor went about his duties on a day-to-day basis.  The doctor helped this man understand that he played a very important role in a very important business, even though all he did was clean up after the doctor.

Do you think the janitor worked any less diligently after hearing those encouraging words from the doctor?  Of course not.  As in-house counsel, we need to build very real relationships of mutual respect within our own companies not only so that our team works harder to help us be successful – but because it is the right thing to do.

This Just In: Tax law is actually pretty interesting

Bart Scagnelli is a 2L at Loyola University Chicago.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Iowa, where he concentrated in creative writing.  Bart was born and raised in the Chicago area, where he now resides.

Very few things about law school are as I imagined them to be.  Like many of my classmates, I spent those anxious summer months before my first semester speculating about what my classes would be like and what kind of lawyer I would become.  I have grown used to being surprised by my law school experience, but nothing could have prepared me for the ultimate curveball: tax law is actually really interesting.

As spring semester wound down, a subtle panic flashed through my 1L class as we neared the opening of Fall registration.  Like most law schools in the United States, Loyola University Chicago serves first-year students a strict regimen of torts, criminal law, constitutional law, and other standard first-year classes.  We only got to pick one class in that first year, and the rest of the menu was non-negotiable.  And there was something safe and comforting in postponing any serious career decisions until the second year.  But sometime in Spring semester it dawned on us that we would soon be forced to make the first broad strokes at crafting our professional identity.  There were almost no rules, only recommendations on what would provide a good foundation for one career path or another.  For various reasons, many of us chose to take a tax law class.

Why do we study the law of taxation?  It makes up a good portion of the bar exam for one reason.  A common sentiment among law students that I spoke with at the beginning of the semester was that tax law sounded tedious, difficult, and about as bland as the law gets, but that it was also a necessary area of knowledge for bar exam purposes.  As the students filed in on the first day of my federal income tax class, many of them sporting summer tans, new wedding bands, and stories of summer jobs, no one seemed all that enthusiastic about spending two hours talking about the Internal Revenue Code.

But something happened as the semester evolved.  Tax law was not an intellectually-barren landscape, but a rich and fertile soil for many of the students.  Green shoots of interest began to emerge, and soon enough I overheard people talking about tax before class, after class, in the hallways.  Not everyone was willing to admit it, and doubtless some were in denial, but after a few weeks it was clear that we had been bitten by the tax bug.  I was left in a state of complete and utter shock.

So what it is about tax law that fascinates some of us?  Well, for one thing, it gets personal.  It is a virtual certainty that every student of tax law will pay taxes at some point, and it is interesting to look at one’s life and employment in the context of tax law.  Why should I have to pay taxes?  Does my company’s free pizza Fridays count as taxable income?  How can I secure my children’s future without giving the government big chunk of money?  These are questions that run through the mind of a tax student, and a careful study of the law allows him to answer some of these questions and feel as though he has some measure of control over his taxable existence.

But the tax law also has broad sociological implications.  The government’s tax powers are often used as a tool to create an incentive or disincentive for particular behavior.  From that perspective, some tax students become deeply interested in how tax can be used as a tool to better society.  These issues are relevant to anyone considering a future in public interest law, lobbying, or even politics.  But I think what I enjoy most about tax law is not quite so virtuous.

There is a creative, scheming element to tax law.  With a deep and meticulous understanding of the rules and precedent, an attorney can harness the mercurial nature of tax law by exploiting opportunities to mitigate the burden of taxation for individuals and businesses.  Yes, I am talking about tax shelters.  Tax shelters range from the subtle and clever to the downright bizarre.  The things people will do to avoid taxes absolutely fascinate me.

Although once upon a time I could not even think about tax law without getting an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach, now I relish the details of federal taxation.  I look forward to taking other classes in tax law, and am even considering a tax certificate.  And I am not alone.  I hear other students talking about getting a tax certification, which is not only interesting, but also practical.  The word in the law student community is that attorneys who are well versed in tax law improve their marketability to law firms, and with a bearish job market on the horizon, every law student is looking for a way to stand out.  Who would have thought that tax law would be such a draw?  Personally, I am pleasantly surprised at the richness and diversity of tax law, and would recommend it to any incoming 2L looking to improve his or her job prospects with an challenging but rewarding bar class.