Monthly Archives: April 2011

Host your own networking events

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency.  Law Publicist Communications is a public relations agency also offering coaching and consulting.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management.  Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Attorneys in transition should consider hosting their own event.  At first glance it looks like a much bigger production that it needs to be.  I learned a few things from a New York lawyer who is successful inviting like-purposed professionals to social events.  Friendships and opportunities grow organically.

You too can host an event that your friends and colleagues will enjoy and remember.  You need to identify people you would like to group together.  Next, pick a venue that makes sense.  Events can be free with sponsor donations to cover costs, or you can host the location only and guests pay for their own entertainment.  Planning ahead and staying organized are important to your success.

When planning the guest list, consider already organized groups of people.  Alumni events can be easy to organize on small scales, and can be promoted in cities through social media.  If you want to hold an attorney-based event specific to your practice area, the invitees might include third party professionals with whom the lawyer makes and receives referrals.  If your event is a fundraiser or informational event your guest list can be broad and you can invite a mix of people who may hit it off.

Selecting a venue is as easier once you have a guest list.  Pick a venue that will appeal to your guests and the social atmosphere you want to create.  Events based around sporting events are good for competitive businesspeople; the group dynamic and team atmosphere causes people to remember your event and tell people about what a good time they had.  Contrast this with an event based around food and drink; where people are in comfortable surroundings and are eating and drinking, they are more likely to engage in a more interpersonal manor.  They will probably interact with fewer people, but spend more time and energy in each conversation.  When selecting a venue, picture the type of people at the event, consider how you want them to interact, and then select a handful of venue options.

Sponsor donations are a great way to fund the event.  The host looks great and the sponsors receive notoriety and should have signage at the event.  Professional networking events where, for example, the personal-injury attorney mingles with the surgeon, are often appropriate for law firm or surgeon sponsorship of the event.  A few sponsors who offer a few hundred dollars can easily finance your event.  Your other options can be negotiating group rates and discounts at the venue.  If everyone pays $10 to $20 to attend, and you have an early headcount, you have room to negotiate some deals.

A third option is to hold the event at a location where guests can pay their way for food, drink and entertainment.  This is a really good option if you want to host and invite people to a low key event where they can mingle as they see fit.  Pre-printed peel and stick name tags are a good way to identify who in the crowd is part of your event.

Planning your event in advance, and in stages, increases your chances of success and future event attendance.  If you approach event management in stages and allow yourself enough time to plan and promote the event you will enjoy the experience.  When promoting the event, consider a one page PDF invitation you can send by e-mail and follow up with a few phone calls.  Again, social networks are great event promotion tools.  When planning for the event date, make sure you have someone with a good camera who is ready to snap some pictures you can later share with attendees.  If you build hype into your events and plan to host them frequently, people will start talking about you and your events.  Have fun and make some new friends and build some new professional relationships.

View from the Classroom: Hallway chatter

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.

Some of the best conversations in law school happen by chance.  These are the unplanned chats right after class, or casual talk in the office, or accidental run-ins in the halls.  Sometimes they’re with one student; sometimes with many.  Sometimes they include other faculty; sometimes not.  But however they happen, we inevitably learn something.  And it’s usually something important.

What is it about hallway chatter that makes it so good?  Part of it, undoubtedly, is that all involved let down their guard.  Professors are less stilted and students are more open.  We don’t speak at arm’s length, as we do in the classroom; instead, we talk as colleagues, even friends.  We see our partners as the full people they are—with families, friends, and passions outside of law school—and not merely as the students or professors we know in class.  We get to know our partners, more than we ever could in the classroom.  As a result, conversation is freer and usually better than our constrained classroom discussions.

Part of it, too, is that hallway chatter is usually more interesting and more relevant.  We talk about current events—and how legal principles that we study in the classroom actually work in the contemporary world.  Students are freer to ask more daring questions or pose more creative ideas—thoughts that could lead to ostracism and embarrassment in the classroom.  And professors are freer to speculate, to argue, to learn (and not just teach), and even to admit they don’t know an answer.  The informality of hallway chatter opens up all these possibilities, and more.

Finally, part of it must be the marriage between preparation and opportunity.  After all, hallway chatter only happens when one partner stops another with a percolating idea—the “I’m glad I ran into you, I have something to discuss” moment.  (Without this, the would-be chatters simply pass with, at most, a “Hello.”)  Good hallway chatter depends on at least one partner’s preparation.  And when that happens, it can be very good.

Now if hallway chatter is so good—and it is—then wouldn’t it make sense to bring it out of the hallway and into the classroom?  After all, the classroom is the principal place in law school where we expect the best learning to happen.  And it’s easy to do: Let down the guards, encourage daring, creative thinking (especially about current problems) and prepare—the exact things that make hallway chatter so good.

Some of our most memorable and most valuable conversations happen in the hallway, outside of the classroom.  Maybe these conversations can teach us something about what happens inside the classroom.

Inside Perspective: Don’t let the family tree stunt your employees’ growth

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.

“An employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision because genetic information is not relevant to an individual’s current ability to work.”  EEOC

When I first started practicing law, 1984 had come and gone.  The Orwellian society predicted in the 1949 publication “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell had not come into existence and our democratic society was alive and well.  The possibility that someone could be discriminated against because of their genetic makeup had not even entered my mind.

Fast forward to the year 2009.  That is the year Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which prohibits genetic information discrimination in employment, took effect.  The Final Rule issued by the EEOC implementing the law became effective January 10 of this year.  When I first heard about GINA, I thought it interesting that Congress was proactively taking steps to prohibit a type of discrimination that seemed a long way off, instead of reacting to abuses already occurring in the workplace.  Without giving it much thought, I also generally agreed with the EEOC’s statement printed above.  Why would anyone think someone’s genetic makeup is relevant?

As I read up on GINA, I also realized that there are fairly decent arguments supporting the review of a candidate’s genetic makeup before hiring them.   Wouldn’t it be helpful to a candidate to know that they might be predisposed to certain diseases if exposed to chemicals they will encounter in the workplace?  According to one article, there are approximately 50 disorders that are believed to increase a person’s susceptibility to certain diseases.  For example, people with the sickle cell gene may be at increased risk of contracting the disease if exposed to carbon monoxide or cyanide.  I would think the employee would want to know that he or she is at increased risk and make a conscientious decision as to whether or not to take the position.  Employers too would benefit from genetic screening by reducing the number of work related injuries and time lost to illness.  Health-care costs would go down too, everybody wins!

Some even argue that for certain jobs where hazardous substances are the only viable alternative to the production process, genetic testing for predisposed illnesses to such substances should be mandated.  The argument can even be extended to impose a duty on the employer to test so as not to expose the employee to an environment that is likely to cause illnesses.

Does the fact that we can test people for predisposition to these diseases mean that we should test?

Does one’s predisposition to a disease really determine how well they will perform the task at hand?  Or, does testing just allow the company to manage costs better by eliminating people who could otherwise do the job, but may get sick as a result?  By testing, isn’t the company really doing exactly what it tries not to do in other similar circumstances – i.e. treating people differently based on their physical features over which they have no control?   What happens as the ever expanding group of “unemployables” sucks more and more financial support from our government?  Genetic testing is not a sure bet either.  Some argue that the results are not reliable and that a test with erroneous findings could blacklist an otherwise healthy worker from gainful employment.

The beauty of understanding the human gene is found in how the knowledge will be used to treat disease, not prevent people from obtaining jobs.  That is the reason the law was passed and that is the reason that in-house counsel must be aware of the law as our society continues to advance in the sciences.

Deciphering the sequence of the human genome and other advances in genetics open major new opportunities for medical progress. New knowledge about the genetic basis of illness will allow for earlier detection of illnesses, often before symptoms have begun. Genetic testing can allow individuals to take steps to reduce the likelihood that they will contract a particular disorder. New knowledge about genetics may allow for the development of better therapies that are more effective against disease or have fewer side effects than current treatments. These advances give rise to the potential misuse of genetic information to discriminate in health insurance and employment.”

We in-house counsel are part of the process to ensure that science is used to the betterment of our society, not to harm the weak. We must read and understand the law and ensure that our companies do not abuse technology to the detriment of our people.

Being true to yourself

Nancy Mackevich Glazer is manager of Legal Launch LLC.  The goal of Legal Launch LLC is to provide uplifting, career counseling for 3Ls, recent law school graduates and experienced attorneys.  Nancy offers her clients endless ideas and possibilities to help land them the right job in a competitive market.  www.LegalLaunch.net;    Nancy@LegalLaunch.net

Throughout your life, no doubt, you’ve heard people advise you to “be true to yourself.”   Even Shakespeare admonished, “To thine own self be true …”

From Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era, fast forward to now, April 2011.  I’ll bet that the following description sounds familiar to many of you:

  • You’ve graduated law school, even passed the Illinois Bar Exam.
  • You’re looking for a job in law that will provide sound footing to begin your career while also helping sustain you, your landlord, and your lender(s).
  • You’ve sent out a ridiculous number of resumes, each with its own custom crafted cover letter.  (You don’t care to count how many.)
  • Like so many of your law school friends, you haven’t had one response — not even a “Thank you, Mr./Ms. _________.   We have received your resume, and you will hear from us by __________…”   Nothing.

I take pride in a similar demoralizing experience I had as a 2L, back in the day.  I was active in a Chicago-based civil liberties organization.  This organization was honoring a man who had once served as a past president and who, in my eyes, changed the world as I knew it.   This man, high upon my pedestal, was also a name partner in his own Chicago law firm.

I wrote this nameless partner a congratulatory note for being honored, and he subsequently invited me to his firm to get acquainted.     As we discussed the state of the legal profession back then, in the Dark Ages, he explained to me that I would never stand a chance of being hired at his law firm.  The reason:  I wasn’t good enough.   I had not attended Harvard, University of Chicago, Northwestern or Stanford as an undergrad or as a law student.  Simply put, I wasn’t in “The Club.”

While I truly didn’t meet with him to prospect for a job, I was rather startled and somewhat offended.  Okay, if you go to law school, you have to be able to withstand blows of this sort.  So I did just that.  I picked myself up off the floor, smiled sweetly, looked him straight in the eye with appreciation for his time, and started putting one foot in front of the other again.

My point is this:  we’ve all been kicked in life and in our job searches.  No doubt, no one is getting kicked more than the graduates of recent years.

The key is:  How are you going to handle being kicked around?  Will you become a tougher, bolder person?  Or, will you become a tougher, more calloused person?

It may be extremely difficult, but if you do nothing else, take some comfort here:  Attorneys who approach me for help with their job searches have endured many blows.  I hear these stories repeatedly:

  • How new attorneys and law students spend time crafting e-mails to lawyers, asking for informational interviews.  Even if there is a connection through family, friends or law school, often, these requests asking for only 10-15 minutes of non-billable time, go unanswered.
  • About recent graduates sending time-consuming, customized cover letters and resumes (x 3.14) in response to posts of available jobs.   Responses of any kind are rarely inspired.
  • How graduates sign on for temporary assignments to start on a date certain.  The coordinators for these projects string along their temporary hires week after week, explaining that the project continues to be delayed.  As a result of these attorneys’ loyalty and keeping of their word, they have missed out on 4-6 other temporary assignments.  Needless to say, these folks fear their landlords and their loan officers.

I repeat, take comfort here.

What I’m suggesting is that the legal world’s pendulum is off its center.  If you are reading this, nodding your head in agreement, you are the victim of simple oversupply v. no demand economics.  You’re smack dab in the middle of a lopsided scale of justice.

You knew this already, but here’s what you might not know: You’re not crazy.

Hopefully, you can look yourself in the mirror and know that market forces have taken over; what you’ve got is the mirror on the wall, your own good reflection and your gut telling you that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

My advice amidst the madness is, try to stay true to yourself.  Try to think about the reasons why you went to law school in the first place.  Put yourself above the imbalance, if possible.

While you’re out there pounding pavement, during or post- law school, know that it will not always be easy to hold fast to who you really are.  Today, you are considered fortunate to have a potential employer simply read your resume.  If you get a written response via snail mail or email , that’s huge (even if you were not accepted).  An interview?  An exceedingly rare event!

If you’re out there looking for work, no doubt your head has been lost in this familiar breeze of a pendulum-gone-mad.  You are probably accustomed to it.  Accustomed to no responses … Accustomed to being strung along …

Sadly, it is inevitable that job seekers today might lose a part of themselves in an unbalanced market runneth over.  If this sounds familiar, don’t do it.  Don’t forget yourself.  Don’t forget why you aspired to study law, even though the law school-to-profession model changed in the middle of the game.  This still isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

*Back to that name partner. Funny enough in the following year, the hiring committee of this man’s very own firm ironically extended me an offer to work post graduation — summer stipend, bar review course tuition and a raise-before-I-even-walked-in-the-door, all included.  (This guy was obviously not on his own firm’s hiring committee)  For other reasons, I did not accept this offer.  Again, it was market forces causing the firm to break old rules and change the way the game had to be played.

In life, you have learned to be bigger than this.  You learned it in kindergarten, when you were admonished, “When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”

The lawyers in our lawyers club, riding the supply-side pendulum, don’t seem to be watching out for us, holding our hands or sticking together.  There is no tattling, and no teacher is present.

Later in law school, the very core of the Socratic Method taught us to toughen up.  We have all learned how to take an intellectual beating in front of our peers.  As a result, we then showed up to class better prepared.  We also became more analytical, and eventually, better lawyers.

Job-seekers, you’re not crazy.  Don’t ever grow accustomed to the silence following the submission of a job application.  That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Even for those of us who never made it to the Ivy League, we lawyers belong to a very fine club.  This is true despite the lack of recognition I received from a once-highly–pedestalled civil rights honoree.   We’ve earned our membership.  We’re in, no matter how the pendulum happens to swing.

New

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.

“Everything old is new again.”  How often we have heard that phrase, and how often we’ve seen that it’s true.  Things that languish in the back of your closet sooner or later re-appear magically on mannequins in stores as the latest fashion.  There are several implications for your job search in this truth.

I was at a seminar last week.  As I listened to the folks talking about “best practices” for FCPA compliance, they spoke of how in the last 10 years the field had come into its own and ticked off what the best and brightest were doing.  A strong sense of déjà vu permeated my thoughts as I listened, because in the early 80s, I recall talking with some of my law department colleagues about the same issues and the same recommendations and putting them into effect for my clients back then.  There are more, and some better tools now, and there is a different context to the overall enforcement milieu, prevailing law and level of emphasis.  Having said that, recommendation No. 1 is if you are a more “seasoned” candidate, don’t sell short what you know, as you may well find that you can teach the young whippersnappers a thing or two.  You may have to adapt it to new legal developments, and you should be honest about the current state of your knowledge (which hopefully you’ve kept current), but another old saying is equally true: “Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose” (the more things change, the more they remain the same).  And I would also encourage employers to recognize this reality.

But more seasoned candidates need to understand equally well the flip side of this truism: Just because something didn’t work before doesn’t mean it won’t work now.  When you are interviewing, you may be asked to address a problem and how you would solve it.  It can be very dangerous to your success to be unwilling to re-examine old problems and shortcomings in light of new technology or attitudes.  For example, some more experienced attorneys will tell horror stories, back in the early days of e-mail and word processing, of sending clients draft agreements, only to have them re-appear in radically different and inferior form, but still allegedly as the attorney’s work product.  But the new realities of law department practice, of doing more with less and reducing transaction cycle time, have generally moved toward having routine agreements available to clients on law department websites or through various document assembly packages for direct use, perhaps in response to a short questionnaire.  The technology is now available to customize the templates more extensively and easily, and also to lock the documents down and limit how they can be changed once created.  While not foolproof, they have helped the problem.  To be unwilling to recognize those tools as a solution because of cobwebbed experiences not in tune with current developments, can brand you as the worst kind of dinosaur.

The next post will address how this aphorism applies to the less experienced candidate.

Q&A with Rod Heard

Rod Heard, a partner in the litigation practice at Barnes & Thornburg, took some time to answer a few of our questions.

 Why did you become a lawyer?

My path to a career as a trial lawyer was not crooked, but it was winding.  In the 1950s in grade school, I thought about becoming an astronaut so that I could be the “First Heard Shot Around The World.” Later, I decided that basing a career decision solely on a bad pun was unwise. But, it would have made a great headline in the New York Times.

Then came Atticus Finch, who was a lawyer’s role model for standing up for justice in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his movie portrayal of the brave lawyer who defied small town prejudice to defend a worthy cause. I was inspired.  Also in my formative years, Earl Stanley Gardner created Perry Mason, and Raymond Burr immortalized the successful criminal defense lawyer in the long running television series (yes, we really watched it on small black and white televisions.) While Atticus and Perry made the legal profession sound noble, I was still way too shallow to be persuaded. I enjoyed debating in high school and thought about being a lawyer. But as a materialistic kid,  I wanted to be an advertising executive. Yes, one of the Madison Avenue “Mad Men.”  I was so low on the organizational charts that it was not until decades later through the television series  that I realized how much fun my bosses were having while I was working.

In the late 1960s, I got a master’s degree in advertising at Northwestern and headed to an advertising agency in New York. At Young & Rubicam, I worked on the Eastern Airlines and Log Cabin Syrup accounts. Today, one of those brands is dead and the other one is still moving very slowly. I loved the creative side of the advertising business, attempting to persuade an audience with limited time or space. In my 20s, I was having a great time, but I worked around many worried-looking 40-year-olds; anxious that someone younger could perform their job at half the salary. I hoped law might be a career where age and experience were assets, but I could still persuade people. Before the golden handcuffs of advertising locked me in, I decided to try law school. For me, it was the best career decision I ever made. As a lawyer, I still attempt to creatively persuade an audience within limited time and space.  Instead of selling maple syrup, I try to solve problems; but I sometimes still sugar-coat them a little bit.  I do wistfully watch Mad Men on occasion.

How has the practice of law changed since you started?

As a young lawyer, I was lucky enough to try all sorts of cases:  cab and bus crashes, dram shop, med mal, and product liability cases. As an older lawyer, I took on commercial cases, including antitrust, securities, franchise, distributor, and complex contract cases.  Along the way, I tried environmental and intellectual property cases. Each trial is an enormous learning experience, but usually the losses were more educational than the victories.  But, the runaway costs of trial have become destructive to the process.   As trial practice has become more sophisticated and expensive, the small trials which were not only enjoyable and a great educational tool for young lawyers have all but disappeared. My friend Bob Burns who is the “Guru of Evidence” at Northwestern Law School wrote a book called the “Death of the American Trial.”  I hope he is wrong, but today most clients are understandably attracted to dispute resolution alternatives that are cheaper and faster than the courts.

In addition to the changes in the profession, the business world has dramatically expanded globally.  Today, young lawyers are understandably uncertain in a rapidly changing world.  But, they are smarter and more technologically savvy than my generation. While the last couple of years have been tough for everyone, the future is unlimited for lawyers who focus on being creative problem solvers.  As the world gets smaller, international disputes will become a routine part of almost every lawyer’s practice. With 1.3 billion people in China, 1.2 billion in India, and another 2 billion spread out elsewhere, our U.S. population of a mere 300 million will be increasingly dependent on global transactions.  Disputes will always erupt when people interact.  Whether it is arbitration, trial, or some hybrid the world’s rapidly growing population needs a civil way to solve its disputes.  So, learn a foreign language, travel, read about diverse cultures and invent better ways to avoid or resolve your clients’ global disputes.  The Internet has made us interdependent with almost every corner of the world, so your clients and most future disputes will cross international borders.

What advice do you have for young lawyers?

As an adjunct professor at Northwestern and Loyola law schools, I am impressed by the intelligence and work ethic of law students.  They are also adept at multi-tasking.  They can e-mail friends and listen to my lectures at the same time.  But, to succeed as lawyers, they need to forge those qualities into becoming problem solvers.  Of course, integrity, perseverance and hard work are essential qualities for any good lawyer. But, these core qualities are only the foundation. What distinguishes the adequate from the successful associate is that the latter take ownership of their assignments.

When you get an assignment, immediately meet with the assigning partner to define it. After that initial meeting, send a short e-mail to the partner which describes your task as you understand it. This e-mail may help to better define the assignment, but it may later serve as your protection that you spent time on the right problem. Sometimes partners are not precise in their assignments, so this email ensures definition of the task at the beginning. Then, take ownership of seeking solutions. Too often, partners will talk over a problem with an associate, but when the associate leaves the office, the problem is still on the partner’s desk.  Don’t just answer their question, handle the matter. When obstacles occur, and they will, do not merely report it. Layout the options or solutions and recommend the one you would take. Clients look to law firms to solve their problems, so young lawyers should train by becoming problem solvers for partners.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Think before doing stunts

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.

The classic conflict between attorneys who want to keep quiet and public relations professionals who want transparency in today’s online media world will perhaps never be fully resolved. However, because of the potential liability of publicity stunts and events, attorneys should be contacted when there are risky promotions.

Here are a few things to consider when doing promotions:

When It Really Won’t Serve the Brand: A company wants to creatively communicate their innovation. However, creativity is most effective when it stays in the character of the product or service. Corporate counsel should be consulted because if something goes wrong, they might be the ones defending the brand in court.

When the Only Value of the Stunt is the Stunt: When a company wants to use a publicity stunt in order to draw more media attention, these questions should be considered: What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want people to remember about your business? If we didn’t do this stunt, how would that impact the objectives in the marketing plan? If the stunt has a purpose beyond getting some videos to go viral, then it would be good to consult the attorneys and the chief marketing officer.

A Surprise Might Turn Into a Crisis: Publicity stunts are created to quickly draw attention to something, and surprises can be effective in the pursuit to be different. Yet attorneys should be asked: What could go wrong? What are the liabilities if someone is not amused, or the shock is so great that it causes physical or emotional harm?

This is the time for attorneys, their clients and their public relations staff to work together. Otherwise, once an event or stunt goes awry, the negative impact on everyone’s reputation may be difficult to undo. It is much better to be safe than sorry.