Monthly Archives: May 2011

Inside Perspective: Cheap is OUT; Value is IN: Communication makes it happen

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 have learned that trying to guess what the boss or the client wants is the most debilitating of all influences in the creation of good advertising.

Leo Burnett

I took a bit of liberty in using Mr. Burnett’s quote, applied to the advertising industry.  But the concept, if a word or two is changed out, applies just as well to the attorney/client relationship.  I have learned that trying to guess what the boss or the client wants is the most debilitating of all influences in the creation of a healthy attorney/client relationship.

A while back, I wrote that profit is good for the outside law firm and that we in-house counsel believe that our outside firms should make money and be profitable (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/inside-perspective-profit-is-good/). In-house lawyers want VALUE for their money, not cheap fees.  But what does it take to deliver value to an in-house team of lawyers, especially a small law department with little in the way of benchmarking tools and fancy matter management systems?

Upon arrival at a new company, a good in-house lawyer takes some time to learn the business.  The newly retained outside lawyer should follow the in-house lawyer’s lead and do the same.  The general counsel should expect the outside lawyer to research the company as much as possible using public sources, then spend some time with the general counsel to learn how she does business; gauge her interests, plans and strategic goals for the department; learn where she (and her department) fit into the business; learn how outside counsel has been used in the past; and find out where she sees the future of the inside/outside “partnership.”

Then it is time to learn how the actual business operates- what does it do, how does it do it?  What are the business weaknesses and where does potential legal exposure lurk?  The general counsel should introduce the outside lawyers to the key players in the organization.  By this I do not necessarily mean the C-Level folks or even vice presidents.  Rather, the general counsel should introduce outside lawyers to the people with whom the outside lawyers will regularly work on matters.  The small department lawyer must leverage the business resources to provide the needed information to the outside people so that her day is spent performing legal work, not gathering documents and performing administrative tasks to keep the outside lawyer busy. 

Develop a protocol for communication between the outside and inside legal teams, one that may include the business people.  Word of caution: do not open the floodgate by inviting the business client to call the outside lawyer “any time they have a question.” Your outside legal team will be on the phone constantly with your business people and they WILL bill this time.  So, the inside team should always serve as the conduit for contact with the external legal resources.  This will serve the general counsel well in several ways:  She will be personally (or through her team) aware of potential legal issues developing; she will have an opportunity to put an internal resource on the problem right away to try and resolve it before it requires expertise or time commitment beyond that available to her via in-house sources; and she will be aware of the matters that her team is addressing; billings will be monitored, controlled and minimized. 

A very important piece of the inside/outside relationship is the development of trust.  Trust is gained on both sides through positive day to day or issue to issue experiences.  Each side of the relationship must be wholly open and communicative about their thoughts, concerns and expectations.  There is a social element to building trust as well.  There is nothing wrong with spending down time with your outside firms.  However, it would be terribly foolish to compromise your decision making on behalf of your client due to the social interaction you have with your outside firms.  Lawyers, though, are particularly adept at keeping business and pleasure separate to ensure such compromises do not take place.  

As a legal matter develops, it can change, the expectations, goals and expected outcomes and means to the end may need to be adjusted as a result.  Neither side should bury their respective heads in the sand and avoid uncomfortable conversations.  For a healthy, long-term relationship, expectations and deliverables must regularly be updated to reflect changing circumstances. 

In closing, let me reiterate the most important points mentioned above – communication with and education about the client, about how the client operates, about expectations and about changing game plans.  Following these elementary rules will go a long way in developing and nurturing a valuable, long term relationship.

92 days of summer

Nancy Mackevich Glazer is manager of Legal Launch LLC.  The mission of Legal Launch is to give uplifting and creative career advice to 3Ls, recent law school grads and experienced attorneys.  Nancy helps her clients land gratifying employment – legal and nonlegal  – in a competitive market.           

                       www.LegalLaunch.netNancy@LegalLaunch.net

 Summer is here.  For many lawyers, the season brings a long-anticipated sigh of relief.  There is finally reason to be outside and away from one’s desk.  The air is warmer.  The mood is lighter.  The atmosphere is more festive.

Generally speaking, the legal community slows down.  Judges, partners in law firms, in-house counsel, and yes, even associates, take vacations.  Bar associations, law schools and networking organizations all tend to turn their attention away from the legal world and slow down.  Summer becomes a time of regeneration.

In the glory days, when firms actually filled their empty offices with summer associates, the mood was always lighter during the summer months.  Today, despite operating drastically different entertainment budgets, law firms’ summer psyche does remain the same.

While most 2011 law school graduates are refocusing their energies and hitting their Bar Bri manuals, many licensed 2009/2010 grads continue to pound a softer law firm pavement.

What happens in the summer season for job seekers?  If you are an attorney looking for your next opportunity, here are a few suggestions for your summer “To Do” list:

1.  Be ready to hit the ground and run on Sept. 1.  Make sure your resume has specific descriptions of what you did as a law clerk or intern/extern.  This means that you have included (a) the specific subject matter area(s) and legal issues about which you are now an expert, and (b) your quantifiable successes, i.e., you detail how your research and your written brief helped convince the judge to dismiss X number of counts of the plaintiff’s complaint or strike Y number of your opponent’s jury instructions.

If your resume generically states that you drafted complaints, motions, and discovery — you are failing to separate yourself from the crowd.  You need to tell a prospective employer what you exactly know how to do, what legal subject areas you understand., and what skills you have mastered. Your goal is to add value to an employer’s practice and make her look good.  The more a prospective employer knows about your exact skills, the less she has to train you.  In today’s competitive market, that’s a huge advantage.

2.  Gain legal experience. Volunteer.  While some legal organizations are spread to capacity with volunteer attorneys looking for more legal experience, some cam always use more help.  If you are interested in litigation,  The John Marshall Law School runs a first-rate Veteran’s Legal Clinic to train you and help veterans advocate for benefits.  If you like estate planning, volunteer to research and update the planned giving materials for a non-profit’s website.   See if they can enlist a seasoned estate planner to bless your work. If you know how to mediate, offer your services to a neighborhood housing organization.  If you would like to learn to mediate, the summer might be a great time to be trained and certified.

3.  Continue to keep every door open. If an opportunity comes along and it’s not exactly what you are looking for, be open-minded.  Gaining experience in another area (in a down market) may not be the worst thing.  The key for you is gaining legal experience.  That’s not to say that you must stay in an unfavored position for the long haul.

4.  Check out areas of law where there actually is demand. Are you interested in health law?  Have you considered health-care compliance work?  Have you noticed how many compliance positions have been posted over myriad pharmaceutical web sites?  If you are a stickler for following rules and regulations, this may be a great area of law for you to pursue.  The demand is great and only continues to grow.

There are other kinds of compliance as well.  Investment and brokerage firms must always be in compliance with SEC regulations.  As most attorneys are not clamoring to this area of law, the chances are good that demand for these skills is quite high.

5.  Take a break. Even though I’m making suggestions about how to land legal work in this competitive market, I am also going to talk out of the other side of my mouth.  Take a break from your search.  Put this on the “To Don’t Do” list.  You must acknowledge to yourself that finding legal work is stressful.   Summer is a great time to be kind to yourself.  Finances depending, take a break, get away, and regenerate.

We all know how quickly the days of summer fly.  There are so many more activities available to fill our time.  Perhaps, just getting out there under the warm sun, meeting people and enjoying outdoor life is one of the best networking avenues we have.  Do what you love, and don’t even call it “networking.”

There are about 92 days of summer.  Please pass the lemonade.

View from the Classroom: New age for legal research (and for legal learning)

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’re on the cusp of a new era for legal research.  I’m not talking about the change from book-based research to electronic research.  (We’re well into the electronic era.)  And I’m not talking about the wide availability of free Internet sources.  (We’re well into the free era, too.)  I’m talking about a change from traditional logic- and Boolean-based research to more natural way of researching.  I’m talking about replacing the old rigid searches and compartmentalized results with searches that sound like how real people talk and with results that are wide-ranging and all inclusive.

In short, I’m talking about Google-ized legal research.  But there’s an important twist: Legal research in this new era is really good.

The new platforms that mark this new era, WestlawNext and Lexis Advance, bring all the benefits of a relaxed Google search while dodging the drawbacks—most notably, the kind of indiscriminate results that internet search engines so often display.  These platforms are highly refined, in their searches and in their results.

This new era should be a welcome one in legal education.  It means that our students can move more naturally from their accustomed ways of researching to legal research.  And it thus means that we in legal education need to spend less time helping students bridge the gap between their accustomed ways of researching to the new and mysterious legal research.

But more: The new platforms, by moving legal research closer to those more general research skills that our incoming students already bring to law school, help to smooth the transition to law school and to that most alien skill, “thinking like a lawyer.”  In other words, these platforms help to make law school and legal thinking more accessible, more comfortable—more like a natural extension of what our incoming students already can do.  These platforms do this in just one area, to be sure.  But that area, legal research, is a key skill in its own right and an important foundation for so many other lawyering capabilities.  Given the importance of legal research skills, the more natural bridge for our incoming students in legal research will inevitably lead to a more natural bridge for our incoming students in legal learning.

We ought to pay attention to this in legal education, whether we teach legal research as such or not.  It means that our important partners in legal education are taking significant steps to reach our incoming students’ skills as they come to us, easing the transition to legal research and easing the transition to legal thinking.  This means that students will be more comfortable and competent in a critical area of first-year legal education, and that this may translate into comfort (or at least a demand for comfort) in other areas of first-year legal education.  Maybe it also means that we should all work in our own areas to reach our students’ skills and capabilities as they come to use, to bridge the gap between what students bring and what law school demands, and thus to ease the transition as our students struggle to develop from lay thinkers into lawyers.

Leveraging Your Reputation: 3 things you can do to boost your publicity

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.

How busy are you right now? Hopefully you’re not too busy to still think about your own publicity, and to actually do something about it. Here are a few things you can do right now, without even leaving your computer:

1 – Share a helpful article online. Every day we find interesting articles and websites that would be helpful to other people, but sometimes it doesn’t occur to us to share them, or we think that we don’t have the time. But it really doesn’t take much time, and by sharing with others, it helps keep your name at the top of people’s minds. Post a link to the story or website on your Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook account, or e-mail it to someone who might benefit from it. If the link is too long, you can shorten it at Ow.ly, (http://ow.ly), Bit.ly (http://bit.ly), or Tinyurl.com (http://tinyurl.com).

2 – Post photos. If you’ve spoken at an event, gone to an interesting place, or even if you’ve seen interesting things around town, choose a couple of photos that you think people would be interested in. Then post them on your Flickr, Facebook, blog, or other online account where you share photos. Even busy people will take the time to look at a photo. Just make sure it’s not too big so that the photo will easily load on people’s computers or phones. You can use Picnik.com (http://www.picnik.com) to edit your photo for free.

3 – Congratulate someone. A lot of people do incredible things, but not everyone bothers to recognize what they do. You can stand out from the crows by letting others know that you’ve noticed their accomplishments. If you’ve heard about a promotion, or have read someone’s article, write a congratulatory email. It’s a simple way to connect with other people in a positive way and to keep your name out there.

Try at least one of these tips—after all, they cost nothing and don’t take much time. The more you do to communicate with others in these ways, you’ll feel like your publicity plan is easier to manage.

Inside Perspective: Postive attitude — happy life

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.

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor E. Frankl

There has been much written about the merits of having a positive attitude.  Most of what I have read boils down to one simple statement: Your attitude, be it positive or negative, happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, will influence the way you lead your life and in turn determine your satisfaction with the life you lead.  As Frankl tells us, happiness cannot be striven for, it simply “ensues.”

Years ago I read the famous book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.  The book is simply written, but provides a good foundation if one is looking to improve one’s approach to difficult circumstances in life.  I practiced some of the exercises recommended by Peale and admit that they helped me through some difficult times.

If you really want to pump up your attitude, you must read Viktor Frankl’s “Mans Search For Meaning.”  It is one of the greatest books ever written.  In this book is an abundance of material from which to draw if you are in need of a jolt of positive thinking.  Frankl survived the Holocaust, imprisonment in several Nazi concentration camps and the murder of his wife and parents.  Yet he thrived, finding much happiness in his life.  Due in large part because of (and not despite), as he says, the profound meaning in his suffering.  His observations about life in the camp lead him to eventually found logotherapy.

What relevance does any of this have to your life as an in-house lawyer? It comes back to “attitude.”  Your approach to counseling will be evident from the moment you pick up the phone or step into the room with your client.  In turn, the tone of the relationship you create will directly impact your advice to the client.  Looking at the positive, avoiding nay saying, looking for solutions, being passionate about helping the business – all show that you are interested.  Your interest, passion and good advice will build trust and confidence in you and your approach to problem solving.  Clients will more readily receive your advice (influence) and the behavior your advice engenders will encourage discourse, positive, risk averse, (and profitable) behavior.

As in-house counsel, we must approach our role as facilitators.  Too many lawyers get a reputation for being obstacles to business in the name of risk aversion.  We can leave the “no’s” to outside counsel.  When it comes time for in-house lawyers to chime in, we should already be working on work-a-rounds, solutions to get the deal done, rather than reasons it cannot be done.  I always remind newly minted in-house lawyers that the company does not exist to provide the lawyer with gainful employment; rather, the lawyer exists to ensure the company continues to exist and be profitable.  Saying “no” because risk is too high is not going to help the company make money.  Ninety-nine out of 100 times there is a solution that reduces risk to an acceptable level yet allows the business to proceed on a profitable course.  It is our job to find that solution.

If you have trouble creating that positive attitude so essential to building rich working relationships, read Frankl’s book.  It will change your life.  Until then, I leave you with a nugget of wisdom from “Man’s search for Meaning” that can help you keep that winning attitude and avoid missteps that could impact your career long after they are made:  “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

Do you want to be a partner?

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 are always in transition.  One of the least addressed groups is the pool of associates who want to become a partner.  The type of associate who leaves a firm to hang their own shingle is probably a rainmaker who would be a good partner.  Partnership decisions and staff/associate attorney movement often happen behind closed doors.  Existing equity and even non-equity partners might be privy to the direction of the firm and whether Attorney Bob or Sue will ever be offered partnership.

Make no mistake; larger law firms are very competitive and political.  Those who get along well with others (clients and fellow attorneys) and who excel in their practice areas have the best chance at becoming a partner.  Many associates are skilled in their practice areas, but lack other non-academic qualities to be one of the partners.

Dedication to a group of attorneys organized in a law firm should be taken seriously.  Partnerships also take on different formations.  Some firms require a capital contribution to buy-in to partnership.  Other firms invite new partners without an initiation fee or waive the right to contribution unless the attorney leaves the partnership before a determined amount of time.  Partnership agreements are as unique as those who draft them.  The commitment expected may be great, and the more you know walking into negotiation, the better you can spot the best fit.

Consider 7 questions to help you determine whether you really want to become a partner or actually want to start your own firm:

1. Do you want control over the direction of a law firm?

Some of us think we know how we want to practice from the second day of law school while others seem to frequently change direction.  If you are a dynamic practitioner, and want more freedom, then you might be happier having the ability to switch gears.

2. Are you strong in selling others on the quality of a firm?

Not everyone has the gift of marketing themselves and others are natural rainmakers.  If you practice in a competitive space and need to compete for clients then solo life may not be your best bet.  If however you are a sales savvy lawyer then you are well suited both for private practice and as well as a partner in a larger firm.  The climbing associate should consider their ability to build a book of business.

3. Is it likely you will change your practice area lineup to meet demands?

Remember how many residential real estate closing attorneys there were five years ago?  It seems like many of these attorneys opted to practice bankruptcy law instead.  Practice areas are subject to shifting economic conditions.  Will you hop on the next bandwagon or ride out the storm?

4. Have you ever managed a group of strong-willed professionals?

If you think management sounds like an annoying burden in a small firm, consider the drama that comes along with management decision making in any larger organization.  There is no quicker way to put a price on your own head when you make a decision that not all will like.

5. Does sharing profits and losses move you in one direction?

Profits per partner averages are reviewed and some partners make greater contributions to those numbers.  The partners who engage in valuable but less billable work affect the averages.  This can cause stress to other partners.

6. Are you the type who enjoys commitment or wants to see if other grass is greener?

Building a firm with valuable partners is not unlike a marriage.  The firm may expect a commitment that some attorneys are not ready to make.  It is not very easy to become a partner, and to leave that partnership is like a divorce and can be difficult and expensive.

7. Do you balance your professional, personal and community needs well?

I have heard from countless large law firm partners that the firm likes it when you spend your weekend in the office.  Yes, some firms are more flexible with outside commitments, but most do not prefer you to have much of a life outside the office.

View from the Classroom: Exams

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.

One of the problems with the first year of law school is that most of our students don’t really learn how to succeed until it’s over.  Most don’t see, for example, that smart studying (and not brute force or rote memorization) earns the “A.”  Most don’t understand that multiple sources (and not just the casebook, the classnotes, the study aids, or a friend’s outline alone) lead to the deepest understanding.  And most don’t get that the indeterminacies and ambiguities in the law (and not merely the “right answers”) form the backbone of the first year.  Most don’t understand these truths until it’s too late.  (That’s a reflection of our pedagogy, by the way, not their smarts.)

This is especially true for final exams.  Many first-year students approach exams merely as a test of rote knowledge (maybe with special tricks thrown in, just to keep them on their toes).  They think that if they can recount the many things they’ve memorized—and sort out the issues from the herrings—they’ll do well.  For many, the hard part about an exam is finding the issues and recalling and applying the rules under a time crunch.

But we on the faculty side know that this isn’t what exams are about at all.

Exams aren’t just a test.  Instead, they’re a conversation.  They’re an opportunity for a student to communicate in writing with a professor, just as they might chat during office hours.  The hypos and questions open the conversation; the student answers respond to it.  And the best student answers go on to explore the issues from all perspectives, as if they imagined a follow up question from the professor that prompted them to drill deeper into their answer.

Just like any conversation, the exam works best when parties listen to each other.  In particular: students should “listen” to the professor by taking cues from the exam itself and from a semester’s worth of studying together.  They should “write to their audience” by considering their professor’s expectations and anticipating their professor’s own challenges in reading their exam.  (It may seem obvious, but exams should be easy to grade—clear, concise, and well organized.)  In short, an exam is an ongoing, back-and-forth, conversation—a conversation like any other, except that parts of it (some of the back, some of the forth) are necessarily make believe.  In short, exams are a two-way chat, not a one-way test.

Exams aren’t about reciting rote doctrine.  Instead, they’re about demonstrating real understanding.  They’re framed to elicit analysis, argument, and critique, not just application.  They’re asking for a variety of perspectives and a depth of knowledge, not a narrow formalistic approach that yields a single “right” answer.  And those twists and turns are designed to inspire careful reading and analysis, not just to hassle and trick students.  In other words, exams gauge the breadth and depth of understanding—all that a student (hopefully) gained throughout the entire course—and not the rote memorization that a student crammed in days or hours before the exam.

Viewed in this way, exams aren’t at all the sadistic instruments that so many first-year students see them for.  Instead, they’re a well designed cap-stone to the course.  Success doesn’t depend upon stressful, last-minute memorization; it depends on consistent engagement with the material throughout the semester.

This should be liberating.  It means that a strong, even effort beats the stressful cram on almost any exam.  But, alas, we so often only learn this too late.