Monthly Archives: February 2011

5 keys to a virtual law practice

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.

Attorneys in transition might consider launching a virtual law practice.  The virtual designation does not need to preclude your physical presence.  There are several important factors to consider when launching a virtual practice.  Professional responsibility risks should be heeded by any attorney practicing on their own.  With some diligence, office smarts and a little work savvy, you can launch your practice without spending a fortune on office space.

First, you need a business address.  In order to register with the ARDC you should have a physical address.  Avoid listing your home address to protect your personal security interests.  You can investigate the variety of virtual office options here in Chicago. The office space where my company is headquartered has permanent offices for rent as well as virtual options for attorneys who need an address and meeting space from time to time and otherwise work from home or on the go.

Second, you need an online presence so potential clients and colleagues making referrals can find you. Make sure you maintain a robust online presence, otherwise referred to as credentialing. It is also imperative that you appear quickly in the organic search results.  There are many cost-effective and free options to list your firm name, address and contact information.  If you’ve ever searched for an attorney online by name and could not find them you know what I mean.  Don’t make the same mistake.

Third, consult with your professional liability carrier and your bar association so that you can obtain necessary ethics and virtual practice resources.  The last thing you want to do is take a case outside your experience and skills sets.  You will find that colleagues applaud you for reaching out for asking questions and preserving the integrity of the profession.  Too often lawyers flying solo take the wrong cases, and when mistakes are made the profession gets a bad name.

Fourth, set up your co-counsel relationships.  Virtual practitioners don’t always have the personal-injury attorney down the hall to field a question. With pre-negotiated co-counsel arrangements established, you can partner up on cases.  These situations provide learning opportunities as well as referrals where appropriate.  If you plan to accept referral fees, make sure you are well-acquainted with applicable professional conduct rules and those of your professional liability carrier.

Fifth and finally, consider the virtual assistant option when you need administrative help, a law clerk or a paralegal.  The money saved in avoiding the extra office overhead can be balanced with the challenges you may face with a virtual law practice.  I often suggest virtual law office staff and attorneys build in a level of structure with regularly scheduled video and teleconference calls.  Webcams often prompt us to look our very best.  We seem to take pride in our work when we look good.

Set and manage work and trust expectations as if your virtual employees are in the next room.  Happy virtual lawyering.

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Leveraging Your Reputation: Are you ready for a crisis?

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 midsize 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.

You’ve probably been busy at work, in addition to dealing with all the responsibilities that you have. But have you ever thought about what you would do in a crisis? It’s not good to wait until something bad happens; you should be prepared in case you have to deal with an event that can negatively affect your reputation. Here are a few things to think about to get a plan in action:

1 – Put together a team. Some people on your crisis communication team can include your firm’s senior partner or one of the other partners, your public relations specialist, the leader in your firm who is closest to issues, any outside counsel you may use, and your online communications expert. You should also choose someone to be the dedicated spokesperson if an incident occurs.

2 – Consider your audience. In order to prepare for a crisis, you should think about your potential audience, which is internal and external: employees, government agencies, the community, vendors and suppliers, clients, and of course, the media. Because your audience is varied, think about how you could effectively communicate with each group. Develop important media connections, and strengthen your existing ones inside and outside your firm.

3 – Prepare your online presence. You most likely have a website that anyone can see, but prepare a “dark” section of your website that is not public, which can go live in case you need to communicate with the public during a crisis. Some possible sections could be a newsroom and a place to post statements, links and special contact information. Also decide which social media platforms you will communicate through and how you will communicate internally with your staff. Analytical tools for your online networks are also important to have ready, in addition to someone who will be responsible for analyzing online activity from other sources.

If you are prepared, you won’t get blindsided if something horrible happens. Information moves rapidly, and you want to be ready to respond just as quickly.

Get noticed while you job search

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

If I tell you that job searching in the legal community is a full-time task, you will likely say, “Tell me something I don’t know!”  So, I’m not going to tell you that.  Instead, I’m going to ask you, when was the last time you assessed your methodologies when it comes to job searching?

As an attorney, I understand the frustrations that the current legal market brings.  Law firms aren’t hiring, non-profit organizations are losing their funding and alternative career options seem daunting.  The good news is, if you take positive steps in the right direction, you can overcome some of these obstacles.  Here are some steps you can take to get back on track.

Step 1: Soul Search.

Resist the urge to send your resume to every firm under the sun.  Chances are, there are reasons you became an attorney and there are areas you would prefer to practice in.  Really hone in on the areas of law that interest and excite you.  Tailor your job search to those positions and only seek out those opportunities.  Your energy is better spent if you have a goal you are moving towards instead of spreading yourself in every direction.   Think about the courses, activities and organizations you were drawn to in law school if you need ideas.

Step 2:  Devise your elevator speech.

If you are not familiar with the concept of an elevator speech, here it is:  you should be able to give a description of what you are passionate about, to a stranger in an elevator, in the time it takes the car to get to your floor.  Even though this may sound like a bizarre challenge for a reality show, it is more a concept than an actual practice.  Once you have a better idea of exactly what you want out of your legal career, get ready to verbalize those ideas.  If you can articulate exactly what you are looking for, you will leave an impression on those you meet.

Step 3: Close the laptop and hit the pavement.

Once you have devised your elevator speech, go out and use it!  I can’t tell you how many opportunities open up for attorneys who make connections.  There are many ways for you to meet other attorneys including: bar association events; Continuing Legal Education seminars; alumni association events; board memberships and the list goes on.  Remember, however, that the goal in networking is to make new friends, it’s not just about walking into a room and thinking, “okay, who here is going to give me a job?”

When you make new, valuable connections, doors will open for you.  Non-lawyers can be just as helpful as attorneys in the job searching arena.  Share your elevator speech with as many people as you can because the more people who know what you are looking for, the more people who can help you.

If you are shy, that’s all right, but you should still make connections.  Something I recommend for people who don’t like to attend networking functions is to attend conferences.  If you like a speaker, go up to her afterwards and ask for her business card.  In this situation, you are not among a sea of networking strangers, rather, you know exactly who the person you’re trying to connect with is.

Step 4: Follow-up.

When someone gives you a business card, have a follow-up plan.  I always make sure to track my connections.  When I meet someone, I enter his or her contact info into my address book right when I get home, I write down where and when we met and I write down something interesting I learned about that person.  Always follow-up soon after you meet someone, when you are fresh in his or her mind.  Shoot the person an e-mail or give them a ring and tell them it was nice to meet them.  If you come across an article or news story you think one of your contacts would find interesting, share it with them.  Always be communicating and always keep people up to speed on your own job search.

Step 5:  Be well-rounded.

Make sure that your life isn’t just about job searching.  There are tons of meet-up organizations, classes and volunteer opportunities for job seeking attorneys.  If you balance your life, the time you spend job searching will be much more productive.  Remember, life isn’t just about work!

 

Inside Perspective: meaningful corporate experience

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  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 am extremely proud of the ACC Chicago Chapter Minority Law Student Summer Internship Program. The program places top minority law students from law schools in Illinois in internship positions in corporate legal departments in the Chicagoland area.  The internships expose the students to in-house practices and career possibilities in corporate legal departments.

ACC’s program is different from any other program available to Illinois law students in that it offers students who have completed their first year of law school the opportunity to work in a corporate legal department and learn what it is like to be an in-house counsel.  It is also unique because of the intense personal mentoring that takes place.  ACC foots half the bill for the 10 week experience, the corporation picks up the other half.  There are dozens of volunteers from across Chicagoland who come together with the students in this program, not to mention the many corporate legal departments and the many people within them who participate.

This experience is invaluable for the student whether they choose an in-house career path or the more traditional first time job of working in a law firm.  In either event, they will know the perspective of an in-house lawyer, a unique perspective that typically requires years of practice before entering into the coveted offices of the in-house world.  This perspective will serve them well as they advance in their careers.

The program does much more than provide jobs for students.  The mentors work with the students from the very first interview to help them learn the skills required of a successful lawyer.  Beyond the raw legal experience, mentors coach students on resume drafting, interviewing techniques and proper attire.  There is even a “mocktail” party where students learn how to work a room and network to their advantage.  After the party, mentors conduct a frank and open discussion about how the students performed.

The feedback they get is worth many years of real world trial and error, because it comes from people with many years of experience who have already made the mistakes.  The mentors coach the students away from making the same ones the mentors made years ago.

This ACC Chicago Chapter program is another example of how the legal profession reaches out to the community to improve it.  It is an example of the value system that we in-house lawyers hold true – opportunity, professionalism, ethics and mentoring.  The mentors and sponsoring corporations collectively invest thousands of hours of their time and, together with ACC, significant monetary resources to offer these students opportunities that they might not otherwise have.  Through this program, ACC Chicago is helping to make great lawyers who will be noticed.

The program also opens the eyes of many people to some of the challenges faced by minority students, challenges that they would not understand but for the relationship they build with the mentee students.  So, in that vein, the mentors may actually become more enlightened than the students as a result of their interaction.

As in-house counsel, it is important that our communities know that we are hard working, ethical, caring, responsible, enlightened and decent people.  Tell your friends and neighbors about the program.  Let people know that lawyers continue to work hard to make the world a better place to live.  You have a fine tangible example of good work to cite in the ACC Program.

For more information on the ACC Chicago Chapter Minority Law Student Summer Internship Program please click here:        http://www.acc.com/chapters/chic/InternshipProgramInfo.cfm

Practice area focus and brand management

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.

Attorneys in transition should assess and decide on a practice area and market their strongest brand.  Too often attorneys gain experience in one practice area then jump around to test the waters in other substantive areas.  You can do this to broaden your skills sets, so long as you are careful not to leave a trail of confusion.

If you are passionate about work in a certain practice area elaborate your practical experience and promote the sum of your potential contributions.   People can tell whether you are committed to certain work.  Likewise, they can often tell when you are trying to sell yourself in a practice area that may not be a natural match.

Brand management requires you to communicate what you do on a consistent basis.  If you’re found hopping around various practice areas you will appear fragmented and wishy washy – not the impression you want to make if you are a serious attorney.

Too often popular practice areas attract mismatched talent.  When I started law school in the late 90s intellectual property was a rather unknown practice area. The only people interested in copyright, trademark and patent law were the students with science backgrounds who attended The John Marshall Law School for their acclaimed IP department.  Today, and largely through social media and online exposure, intellectual property is a really “hip” practice area, attracting many who think trademarks are cool.  While I’m certainly not disputing the “cool” factor, the work can be quite challenging and is not for everyone.  Consider the “cool” factor long term.

After carefully assessing your background and developed skills sets, consider natural practice area matches.  Be careful not to let financial considerations be your guide.  Family law, for example, can be very lucrative; however the market is highly sensitive to economic swings and geographic location.  Those who went into family law to make big bucks often end up cursing their decision if they are not personally invested in truly serving the best interests of domestic relations.

If you engage in substantive work outside your practice area make sure you learn the subject well before you accept a client for same.  Malpractice may not pay a claim if you are operating negligently outside your abilities.  The ABA offers several publications concerning ethics and considerations for attorneys who need practice area resources.  Remember that experience can never be substituted with an IICLE volume.

View from the Classroom: Goals

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.

We all set goals for ourselves.  Whether we state them or not, we all try to achieve some end, or meet some standard, at work, at home and even at play.  And we know why we do this: By setting goals, we identify a measure of success that can both inspire us and, when achieved, satisfy us.

So too in legal education.  We set goals for our law schools, for our classes and for our students.  And we work to harmonize these—to ensure that our immediately goals for, say, a meeting with a student next Wednesday, complement our goals for our class, and that these both complement our goals for our law school.  Just like our life goals, these goals can inspire, measure success, and satisfy.

But our goals won’t work for our students if we don’t articulate them.  Our students won’t see their legal education as part of a larger educational endeavor unless we tell them the goal, the mission, of our law school.  They won’t understand our curriculum if we don’t explain our objectives.  And they won’t see the point of our classes if we don’t tell them what we expect them to learn.  By not stating our goals, we not only miss opportunities to inspire, measure, and satisfy our students; we actively alienate them.

It’s not enough to expect our students to discover our goals by themselves.  For one, our goals aren’t obvious, except in hindsight.  Even our most perceptive students have trouble figuring out how their day-to-day studies fit in with their classes and the curriculum, let alone the mission of their law school, until well into their studies.  And in any event our many mixed signals, especially in the first year—extra large classes, stove-piped subjects, assessment based on a single final exam, and more—serve only to confuse, not elucidate, our goals.

We in legal education might take a lesson from those in primary education.  Goals are second-nature to primary educators.  They state them clearly in their lesson plans.  They are specific; they are measurable; they are achievable.  And they relate, piece-by-piece, to a larger educational mission.  In short, they serve their purposes: They inspire, they measure, and they satisfy.

For our law students, articulated goals would serve these purposes even better.  Our students are more mature, more aware of their own development, and by and large more invested in their own development than primary school students.  Stated goals for law students only capitalize on these characteristics and intensify their effects.

There’s yet another good reason to state goals: It makes us better teachers.  By thinking hard about our goals, we focus our teaching, sharpen our curriculum, and help define our institutions.

By stating goals, we can make legal education better for our students, and for ourselves.

Recruiter? Or no recruiter?

Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.

I will start with full disclosure: I despise recruiters, despite the fact they obtained my first two corporate jobs for me.  I despise them because of what I feel they have become.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.

Let’s define who we’re talking about.  Retained recruiters get paid by a law firm or company to find someone, usually whether or not they actually find the actual successful candidate in the first instance.  Some are general purpose, performing many kinds of searches, others are niche providers who limit themselves to particular industries or job type.  Contingent recruiters find out about a search, come up with a candidate, present the candidate, and if that candidate is hired, they get a fee.  The loftier the title, the more likely a retained recruiter is involved.

If you are a top of your class, never-failed, high-trajectory type, retained recruiters can help you.  There are organizations that want to be composed of those kinds of people, and only those kinds of people, and will pay someone handsomely to find, contact and sift them.  Recruiters make it a mission to keep tabs on those people who stand out in a field.  They talk to people about peers, find out who they negotiated with, how they did, what they did wrong, who worked on this deal, who was at the table, who was flying to Nowhere to check out nothing.

They pore over presenters at various CLE programs, and check industry panels for speakers and trade publications for who writes the articles, noting the names that repeat.  They look at organization charts to find out who’s on the way up, who’s stuck and who is getting creamed.  For law firms, they look at who makes it rain, and who is merely getting wet.

But my personal view is that retained legal recruiters have become too myopic, too focused on the GQ cover boy or Cosmo cover girl who is on the fast track.  They ignore, indeed are often somewhat hostile to, people who don’t fit a narrow set of criteria.  They often claim it’s the client’s fault, that they are simply trying to fulfill the client’s articulated needs.

For large law firms, where credentials and rainmaking are today’s indicia of nobility and the raison d’être, I can understand that defense.  But for most corporations, it makes no sense to me.  I know a lot of general counsel, and comparing their views of who is successful in their departments with the desired criteria in most ads put out by retained legal recruiting firms does not reveal a high correlation in my mind.  I have also seen many examples particularly of age discrimination by legal recruiters of both kinds.

A word of caution about contingent recruiters: many will fish for published jobs, and try to steer candidates to them.  They do so sometimes despite wording in the published ad that no agency candidates will be considered.  This practice can complicate the candidates’ position, so be very careful that you understand the provenance of any opportunity a contingent recruiter presents to you.