Monthly Archives: November 2010

Job Search Strategies: An awesome responsibility

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

Recently I read in the Chicago Tribune a short article offering tips to recent college graduates about how to behave on the job. It struck me how simplistic those tips sounded when you compare them to what is expected from new law school grads beginning their law career.

I am comparing someone who has already been educated in a profession to an undergrad, I know, but for the first few months as a lawyer, there isn’t much difference in “life knowledge” of a recent college grad and a law school grad. Yes, the law school survivor knows a lot more and has theoretically been taught to think as a lawyer, but he or she has not been out practicing yet.

For people who go directly from college to law school there isn’t much immediate difference between emerging with a law degree to being handed a B.A. diploma, for example. The differences quickly develop though, as law school graduates proceed into their new roles as attorneys.

One of the tips for new grads is not to gossip in the workplace. Good advice in any work setting, but loaded with consequences for a new lawyer. As a new attorney, deciding what you can talk about and what you can’t is difficult. The more involved you become in your practice, the less you decide to talk about your firm and your practice. Talking about clients or cases with the wrong person, or discussing what goes on in the workplace can result in serious ethics violations.  There have even been situations where attorneys reading case materials in a public place, like a train, where other people can look over their shoulder, have been up for disciplinary action.

Among the tips discussed in the article are being reliable and its mirror image, procrastinating, respectively. While putting things off may be fairly harmless in a regular work setting, procrastination by an attorney can cost him his law license. Missing a crucial court date or a filing date can have serious repercussions on an attorney’s career. Being reliable is the essence of being a lawyer. As advocates for our clients reliability is expected and required.

The article recommends keeping your voice at a moderate level. A lawyer’s voice can be, in certain settings, an integral part of her strategy. Certainly the loudness and the tone of your voice is a tool at trial, and even in front of certain judges at a simple motion call or hearing. When I first started practicing I was occasionally drowned out by loud opponents and quickly learned how to use my voice to keep the judge’s attention.  If you can’t be heard you won’t prevail.

The article warns against making personal phone calls at work and surfing the web or spending time on social networks. In my experience, there is never time to do any of these things. Most lawyers are so busy that they struggle to keep up with client matters, or, they have an hourly billing requirement and doing any personal business at work is an impossibility.

The contrast between being a business person and working as a lawyer is stark when it comes to positive or negative behaviors. It wasn’t long after I began practicing as a lawyer that I became sharply aware of the awesome responsibility that goes with being an attorney.  Having experienced the business workplace as an executive in charge of seven-figure budgets and many personnel was not as significant as having responsibility for whether a mother keeps custody of her child or whether an unemployed person can keep a roof over their family.

Q&A with Alan Tuerkheimer

Alan Tuerkheimer, M.A., J.D., is a consultant with the litigation communications consultancy Zagnoli McEvoy Foley FFC in Chicago. He has extensive experience conducting jury research including focus groups, mock trials, and venue attitude surveys and has worked with trial teams across the country on voir dire and jury selection, trial observation, shadow juries and post-trial interviews.

Why did you become a lawyer?

I was suspended as a crossing guard as a fifth-grader and was intrigued by the process of telling my side of the story (I was guilty since I did throw a snowball at that car) to a purportedly fair panel.  In high school, the issue of busing came to the forefront, and I was struck by the importance of the rights at stake.  How about when my insurance company did not cover a dental visit following the removal of my braces even though my policy said it should?  Good or bad, like it or not, the law provides answers to these questions.  Plus, I’ve always been interested in human behavior, how people make judgments, and what makes something persuasive or not.

What advice do you have for law students?

Law students should take a variety of courses in law school since this education will serve them well no matter what. The courses I took certainly help me in my profession, and also make me a more informed citizen.  I begrudgingly took Tax in law school and to this day have a much better understanding of all things tax related.  I rarely use constitutional law in my daily work but it provides an invaluable window on the world.

What is the biggest way your practice has changed since you first started working in that area?

One of the big developments in my area of work has been the change in prospective jurors’ familiarity with and usage of online media.  Those making phone calls to recruit participants for a research project have to take into consideration that many of us have no landline anymore and often don’t pick up our cells when a “strange” number appears.  You may be better off nowadays reaching out and connecting with the public by purchasing large quantities of e-mail addresses.  And 10 years ago jurors were never admonished not to Google any case information during the trial.  Everyone seems to be more and more connected and the technological revolution certainly touches every industry.

View from the Classroom: Politics in the classroom

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.

Two Boalt Hall students recently released a study on law faculty hires and concluded what we already know: new faculty hires lean to the political left.

There may be any number of reasons for this.  Lawyers as a group may lean left, resulting in left-leaning candidate pools and hires in most areas of the profession.  Or the law faculty candidate pool may lean left, because left-leaners are more likely to want to teach and write.  Or law professors as a group lean to the left, so they may hire like-minded newcomers.

Whatever the explanation, the students conclude that the hiring pattern perpetuates a lack of ideological diversity in legal education.  But this begs the question: What role, if any, should politics play in the law classroom?

Some say none.  Professors should not impose their politics on their students.  This alienates students and impedes learning.  And it goes far beyond the educational mission: Politics often have nothing to do with the subject, and political proselytizing is an abuse of the special trust between professors and students.

Others take a different view.  They say that all in education is political, anyway—from the prescribed curriculum to the ways we teach classes—and any educational choice is necessarily also a political one.  More: Hiding politics, or pretending to, is simply dishonest; it violates the trust between professor and student every bit as much as political proselytizing.

Each position has its appeal.  On the one hand, political proselytizing has no place in the law school classroom, especially when it’s disconnected with the subject.  At best, this risks dividing and distracting the class; at worst, it trades on the professor’s trust and goodwill with students.

But on the other hand, law and law schools are by their nature deeply political.  Recognizing this, those on both the right and the left have tried to make the legal academy an incubator for theories that will shape the law in the next generation.  They have sponsored competing student groups, promoted curricular adjustments, and even authored casebooks designed to shift the law in one direction or the other for our budding lawyers, judges, and policy-makers.  Talking politics seems essential in this environment, if only to stay on top of all the politics that are already happening.

The best practice is probably somewhere in between.  If one of our principle goals is to empower students to think for themselves about the law—and it ought to be—we owe them the politics of our disciplines.  Every area of the law, no matter how seemingly benign, has its own politics, and we can’t expect our students to understand a discipline, much less think critically about it, without seeing the politics.  But we also owe them balance.  Skewed politics does not promote critical thinking; it only solidifies uncritical thinking.

And so it’s healthy to think about the political make-up of law faculties and the political patterns in new faculty hires, as the Boalt Hall students did.  But it’s much more important to worry about striking the right balance of politics in the classroom.

Inside Perspective: We need friends

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 recently read a short piece by George Bush in which he reflects on the value of the friendships he has maintained over the years.  He recognized how his true friends stood by him and helped him through the tough times in the White House.  Those friendships, going back years and years long before he had any political power, were true and deep.  As a result whenever he consulted these folks he received honest and frank advice, untainted by any self-interest.  President Bush expressed his gratitude for these friendships, recognizing how they enriched his professional and personal life in a very meaningful way.

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things, for I am truly blessed.  I have a wonderful family, good health and a job I love.  In the context of my practice of law, I am very grateful for my in-house colleagues and the value they bring to my ability to provide excellent, unbiased advice to my clients.

Many of us in the in-house world work in small law departments.  Some of us even work in one-person shops.  Whether you work in a large or small department, we all understand the value of having a colleague or two with whom we can toss around ideas, reflect on whatever it is that is keeping you busy at the moment and generally just discussing legal concepts at a high level (obviously respecting our ethical obligations in the process).  The value of having good friends and colleagues that you can trust as you go about your daily business is invaluable.

So today, I say thank you to those in my life who have helped me be a better lawyer (you know who you are!).  I urge each of you to somehow recognize the lawyers in your life who have done the same for you.  You might send a note of “thanks” to those legal colleagues and lawyer friends in your life who have helped you over the years, who have kept you balanced and well-grounded.  Or, you may call that colleague who has provided honest, critical and unbiased guidance to you.  You can even forward a link to this column with a short note …  “read this and thought of you….”

Remember too that you also serve as the sounding board for many of your colleagues.  You provide value and the sense of collegiality so important to the practice of law.  Continue to be there for your colleagues and always be grateful that they are there for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

View from the Classroom: Beyond the Rote

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.

A few years ago, a first-year student in my Constitutional Law class, about five weeks into the semester, asked me this surprising pair of questions: “What are we supposed to be learning here?  I mean: What are we supposed to memorize?”

The questions grated me at the time.  After all, like many law professors, I didn’t expect my students to memorize anything.  I had higher aspirations: I wanted them to internalize the material—to understand our constitutional values at a deeper level, to study the evolving constitutional theory, and to appreciate the complex social and political forces that tug and pull on our Constitution, this way and that, until we reshape it.  These were ambitious goals, indeed; maybe they were too ambitious.  But for me, it wasn’t about rote memorization; it was about understanding.

The questions thus irritated and distressed me.  But I wasn’t disappointed in the student; I was disappointed in the academy.  How could we, in education, have taught this student that learning meant mere memorizing?

In truth, we do this a thousand different ways, at every stage of formal education.  For example, we teach our primary schoolers to memorize facts—math facts, history facts, social science facts—and then we administer standardized tests to check their memorization.  We teach our college students through increasingly large-class lectures in many disciplines, prioritizing memorization over the critical thinking skills that develop more naturally in small-class discussions.  We then test students in many disciplines using instruments that reward memorization—instruments like the multiple-choice exam.  In law school, we (and our commercial partners) inundate our first-year students with supplemental materials specifically designed to aid memorization, especially in first-year classes.  (And we correctly advise our law students that they’ll need to memorize on the back-end, too, for the bar exam.)  With all this baggage, it’s no wonder that my law student wanted something to memorize.

And maybe that’s not all bad.  Students need to memorize some material—that’s just the best way to learn it.  (For example, think about the basic elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages.  There’s much to understand about negligence, but we can get the basic elements through memorization.)  More, memorization gives us all a sense of accomplishment and certainty; it helps us feel good about learning something determinate, something we can get our arms around.  And memorization often follows a deeper understanding: internalizing material usually means that we also end up memorizing something, even if we’re not trying.

But our formal education system too often gets this backwards.  It too often sees successful memorization as a good proxy for understanding.  It’s even convinced some of our students of this.

But we know this is wrong.  Good memorization alone is not a good indicator of deeper understanding.  And it is certainly not a good indicator of critical thinking.  We in legal education have our work cut out for us if we want to undo these assumptions and teach beyond the rote.

Job Search Strategies: The back nine

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

Older friends tell me, almost unanimously, to wait as long as possible to retire. Some who did well retired in their early 50s — they were excited about all the free time they would have to do their own thing once they shed the work routine. Some of them found themselves looking for something meaningful to do after only a couple of months of retirement.

Having a hobby doesn’t necessarily satisfy the need for something meaningful to do. Playing golf gets to be a routine also, and eventually loses its attraction. Shopping, lunches, taking/teaching classes occupy your time and mind for a while, but what happens with the rest of the time? You have to have a passion that drives you.

A lawyer friend and mentor is almost 80 years old and he is always eager to take new cases (the ones that interest him) and feels he could handle even more work than his pretty brisk practice provides. And law is his second career after retiring as a medical doctor!

I do know someone who is happy not working and at 56 has been retired for eight years. But even so, she has problems sleeping and seems to become obsessed with her many causes. She was a successful business owner for years and all that energy has to go somewhere now.

Whenever I have a free window of time I do some pro bono work, but that is not the same as being in the fray of practice, with a steady stream of appointments, court dates and filings or having some other place you have to be at a specific time to do some specific thing for pay. When I am not busy I worry about my sense of worth and feel unanchored, you could say I get depressed. There is a tight connection between my work, my ability to bring in an income and how I feel about myself.

So older lawyers, in spite of the condition of the legal market and the economy, are likely to keep going for quite a while past traditional retirement age, given that they enjoy good health. We may not be as busy as we would like, but we’ll be out there grappling with work issues, just like our younger counterparts.

One of the benefits of being an attorney is that you can practice as long as you can competently represent your clients. Since you don’t answer to anyone but yourself you can work as long as you are able to sign up clients and do the work. Part of my motivation for going to law school later in life was to have interesting work to do for the last couple of decades (hopefully!) of my work life.

I am happy to realize that I don’t have to go through my “not working anxiety” any time soon, I don’t have to worry about coming up with engrossing hobbies or how to fill my time. So far in my career that has never happened, I have always had more to do than I could realistically get done and for me, that’s good.

Q&A with Charlene Kalebic

Charlene Kalebic, of counsel in Schiff Hardin’s Lake Forest office, concentrates her practice in serving as general outside legal counsel to privately owned businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals. As a strategic attorney, she provides counsel on a wide range of general business and corporate matters, including business formations, mergers and acquisitions, labor and employment, contract formation and disputes, and litigation.

Why did you become a lawyer?

I became a lawyer to help other people.  I had always wanted to go to medical school to be a doctor, but organic chemistry pretty much kicked me to the curb.  So I have always viewed myself as a doctor for people with legal issues.  We can be just as helpful  – only in a different way.   There are some days when a client is going through a really difficult time (I had one go through a business divorce with an unsavory partner and a personal divorce at the same time), and I will call them just to encourage them.  They really appreciate it.

What advice do you have for law students?

Law students should do something that they love, with people who are competent and who are of the highest ethical standards, in an environment they enjoy  in an area that they feel fulfilled.  Life is a marathon, not a sprint, so they should choose something they will see themselves enjoying 25 or 40 years from now.