Monthly Archives: July 2011

Thinking like a lawyer

Maria Sfreddo is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation where she represents low-income clients in domestic relations matters.  When her fellowship term ends this fall, she will be joining Pasulka & Associates. She can be reached at or

For those of you who have survived law school, you already know the sad and undeniable truth:  It ruins your brain.  Never again will you return to the serenity of your prelaw existence, a time when life was more than a sticky web of legal consequences – a time when you didn’t think like a lawyer. Something happens to our brains in law school.  I don’t know what it is, but I’m confident it would show up on a brain scan.  We are trained to think like lawyers, which is of course a useful skill at work, but becomes utterly exhausting once we realize it cannot be turned off.

My lawyer brain has sucked the fun out of many of the activities that I used to enjoy.  Once upon a time, I enjoyed a good legal drama every now and then, but not anymore.  Now I watch in anticipation of the inevitable legal impossibility that occurs in every episode.  I invariably end up yelling at the screen until I just can’t take another second of fantasy courtroom procedure and turn it off.

My daily routine of scanning the news headlines has become equally as draining.  Even seemingly nonlegal stories are eclipsed by the endless legal consequences I can dream up.  For example, a headline reads, “BALLPARK TO RAISE RAILINGS AFTER FAN’S DEATH” and what’s the first thing that comes to my mind?  Federal Rule of Evidence 407, which prevents evidence of subsequent remedial measures after an injury from being introduced as evidence that the injury could have been prevented.  Or what about this one, “GIRL DIES AFTER FERRIS WHEEL ACCIDENT.”  All I can think about is res ipsa loqitur and that stupid flour sack.  I know.  It’s sick.

My husband has had to deal with more than his fair share of this illness.  The poor man can’t escape my cross-examination, “so you’re saying you DIDN’T take out then trash then, is that right?”  I remember one particularly shameful argument in which I yelled, “You have to put the toilet seat down because that’s the default position!”  And when he asks me for the third time where his brown shoes are, I can’t help but respond, “asked and answered.”  Not even our favorite activities are safe.  Stopping to sign a release before picking up our ski passes turned into an unnecessary explanation of how contracts of adhesion are generally not enforceable.  Like many other Chicagoans, I enjoy running along the lake to clear my mind, but I doubt my fellow runners spend miles trying to imagine how the lakefront is legally protected from development (it’s the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, if you’re curious.  I ran home to look it up!).  Don’t I sound like a barrel of fun?

While it may seem like a curse, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen said that “thinking like a lawyer means thinking with precision and clarity and understanding that the world is not black and white.” What’s so bad about that?



Are you introducing yourself to friends in your social networks?

J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Inc. agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in legal marketing, public relations, and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and tips for legal job seekers.

You already have a warm introduction to people in your social networks. If you are not calling them to say hello, you are missing an opportunity. Why are we connected if we don’t stay in touch? Quoting linguist, Avram Noam Chomsky, “We can imagine a society in which no one could survive as a social being because it does not correspond to biologically determined perceptions and human social needs. For historical reasons, existing societies might have such properties leading to various forms of pathology.” We are so connected by technology that we rarely talk to each other, impeding traditional social interaction, a human social need. Consider picking up the phone and calling to say “Hello.” Here is a five-step approach to growing your credibility in your social networks.

Step 1: Identify your contacts

Assuming you have Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – if you don’t we might be at an impasse – scan the people in your network and identify the people who look friendly and interesting. Your goal should be an introduction phone call to learn about them, spot referral opportunities, and to share what you do. When you are starting out, identify people who are close in demographic profile because it might be easier to have a short informal conversation.

Step 2: Organize your contact plan

What’s the reason for your call? Remember that people are busy. If you call to say hello, be prepared for some confusion. Few people still call to say hello. Identify an article, podcast or webinar that might be of interest to the person you calling. They might already have the information – no worries. Psychology tells us that people like feeling wanted and known; remember the value of professional courtesy when making contact. Best practices include an Excel grid or other contact management system that helps you track who you called, what they said, and if there are other opportunities to connect.

Step 3: Introduce yourself

I know it is difficult to pick up the phone and call a stranger. Write a short list of bullet points you want to cover. After “Hello” your next line is crucial to the tone of the call. Consider saying “Hello Jim, this is Nick Augustine, we are connected on LinkedIn (for example), and I am just calling you to introduce myself, as a professional courtesy.” Expect a pause while Jim thinks, “…huh, this doesn’t happen often.” Jim may be really busy and cut you off, but he will do so politely. If Jim is busy, offer to call back another time. You might also get “What do you want?” – most people assume you’re selling something. If asked, just reiterate, “We are connected on LinkedIn and I just wanted to say hello to the person behind the profile.” Try it. You just might earn a new professional friendship.

Step 4: Follow up on paper

Yes, I want you to kill a few trees (or at least run to your neighborhood Staples). Anyone who has listened to Jim Thompson’s appearances on my LawTalkRadio webcast knows, the best way to follow up is sending a hand-written note. Once you get your stationery and best felt tip pen, write your contacts a note – “Jim, It was nice chatting with you earlier this week. I am glad to stay in touch. I’m glad I know you practice ‘XYZ’ law because my ‘123’ group is full of potential clients.” You could also just say it was nice chatting, please stay in touch. At the end of the day, you are making an effort to get to know one of your contacts. Only good things can come from this.

Step 5: Repeat

Plan to call the receptive contacts again in a few months. Maybe you will send them in e-mail instead. Identify the people who were friendly and open to communication. Don’t tell them you will follow up or they will assume you want something. Never hypothecate! Be genuine! Back to psychology, the theory of ‘Spreading Activation’ (if I remember correctly from a 1997 cognitive psych class at Marquette) tells us that people have strong memories; the people about whom we feel positive are likely to hold a permanent spot in our mental file cabinet. When you stay in touch, over time, the people who like you will remember you – calling with a referral (or offer of some kind).

Have you done this before? Always curious about your experiences, feel free to leave your comment. Stand up and tell Noam Chomsky that you are better than he suggests.

Inside Perspective: Choose excellent advisors

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.

Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22

 I recently wrote a column about picking good advisors (  I suggested that when one expands their circle of advisors, there should be at least one and no more than three.  A good friend and advisor of mine asked me why I chose three as the maximum number of advisors.  I admit, I did not have a good answer, so I thought about it a bit more.

The point is to choose excellent advisors, not an “excellent” number of advisors.  I have two or three people with whom I consult regarding career management, one or two people regarding personal and family matters, two or three people who give me advice on college planning for my kids and several people (outside of retained counsel) with whom I can bounce legal questions off of and have general discussions about legal matters.  Most of these people are very close to me and some provide input in more than one area.

When you seek advice, you need to discern good advice from bad advice.  Discernment is an ongoing process, but most of the heavy lifting regarding career advice is done at the outset of your career when you need advisors the most.  The conundrum is that the beginning of your career is when you are least equipped with skills of discernment.  The solution is to start with people with whom you are already very close and know you can trust.  If they are not knowledgeable on the topic about which you need advice, ask them for a referral.  A close friend will refer you to the right person.  Do not be afraid to ask for advice, no matter the stage of your career, your age, your level within the company or status in the community.  Wise people seek wisdom.  There will always be people who know less than you do and those who know more than you do.  Even the President of the United States has a team of advisors.

In-house counsel are particularly well suited to give advice to less experienced attorneys.  Generally, in-house lawyers have a broader scope of experience, having served in both the inside and firm worlds.  The two worlds are very different, and just as firm experience is very valuable to have as an inside attorney, it is similarly valuable in the role of advisor.  Inside lawyers have excellent business experience and insight that is very different than that of the firm lawyer, especially a young firm lawyer.  Advice seekers are well advised to seek out an inside lawyer for career advice because of the breadth of their experience.  But, do not necessarily limit yourself to in-house lawyers because firm lawyers are very knowledgeable people too!

We must all be willing to serve in the role of advisor.  As advisors, we must ensure that we give good advice.  Giving good advice implies the wisdom to know what we don’t know and then, acting with an appropriate measure of humility, making a referral to someone who can help the advice seeker.

As an advice seeker, once you choose your advisors, listen to them.

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice. 

Proverbs 12:15



The professional as firm of one

Thomas Figel is the managing partner of Lake Effect Communications LLC.  The firm concentrates on the business development needs of professionals and companies in a region that curves around the lake from Milwaukee to South Bend, Ind.

Lawyers are notably careful about the way they look.

By and large, lawyers make careful, significant investments in the clothing, cars and physical shape that help them compete for attention among arrays of intelligent people with similar education and experience credentials.  Even though each cohort of lawyers in early and middle stages of a career includes a number who spend time developing reputations and connections that magnify professional value, the majority fight for importance with steady workplace presence and fresh wardrobes

While they make steady and sometimes large investments in some things that keep them competitive, few professionals are as careful about the personal reputation that can accelerate and protect their power to create revenue.  For that, they rely on the services of their law firm.

Lawyers who believe that the present trends in law will continue are increasingly willing to expand their reputation activities.  Extrapolating from the present, they foresee firms compensating certain key members at great multiples while the firms add and subtract other lawyers in quick reaction to market circumstances.  Lawyers with such a view are increasingly willing to invest time and some funds in guidance, articles, introductions and other activities that complement the good impression made through grooming, briefcases, vehicles and other image accoutrements.

Now, firms of even modest size have embraced marketing through the creation of a position usually titled chief marketing officer.  Meant to resemble the planned activity of corporations dependent on the introduction and sale of many products and services, the work of a chief marketing officer would bring cohesion and focus to the development of a professional firm’s relationships with chosen markets.  For one thing, the chief marketing officer’s attention would help the firm discern markets of proper size and proper importance so that opportunities would fall into recognizable categories of cost and expected return.

Whether the addition of the chief marketing officer has given the majority of professional firms defined and valuable distinctions in their markets, or has just given the modern organization another modern component of corporate staffing, the addition is a fact of professional practice today.

On the surface, a lawyer in such a firm benefits from the chief marketing officer’s presence.  The position means that the firm has set aside resources for a number of activities and services that aim at an attractive result: an increase in business.

But even for firms of global reach and grand size, every resource, from marketing to electric power, is finite.  Furthermore, the chief marketing officer’s time is finite. Like any senior staff member’s pressures, the matters that press on the chief marketing officer fall into a hierarchy that can leave scant time and scant resources for those who fall outside the top spheres.  Can the chief marketing officer attend to the ideas of a single member of a practice when there are annual budgets to develop and present, when there are partner conferences to organize, when there are expenditures that must be allocated for conferences, advertising, websites, and brochures?  When there are competitors to follow and fire drill RFPs to complete?  And when, after all, there are messages, calls and requests flowing toward the office from the senior members of the firm, those who head practices and account for the firm’s most important revenue relationships?  Finally, what about the need for personal downtime, the urge to squeeze a vacation and a simple breather into a relentless calendar of meetings, conference calls, and presentations?

Yes, indeed, wait.  Wait a long time if a professional in the novice and mid ranks wishes to receive singular assistance from the department the firm has established for marketing.

Of course, a chief marketing officer who has a good effect on the revenues and value of the firm creates value that can reach all the members of the firm.

But, even then, how secure is the ambitious junior professional?  To grow in importance within the firm and for the firm, the professional needs relationships with clients, with people who choose to use the firm’s services because of the individual who is their direct link.

Without that personal reputation, even a professional in an important, growing practice is a vulnerable, somewhat expendable provider of service.  What if a sudden change in regulations or an altered marketplace diminishes the value of a whole set of professional services?

Maybe the firm’s marketing department will have decades of successes that provide plenty of work as the professional’s career unfolds.  Such success does occur. But maybe, as a precaution, the professional should take charge of his or her own reputation development.  At a certain level, the obligation is already one the professional manages.  From the first day with the firm, the professional has chosen a certain wardrobe.  Personal impression is always important.  The professional is careful about haircuts, about having shoes shined, about an appearance of success.

Taking on responsibility for the growth of a reputation is logical and practical, even if the professional has to add the cost of reputation activities to the costs of a professional wardrobe, grooming and other normal personal expenses.  If the resources of the chief marketing officer are unavailable, the need is still present.  The professional ought to invest personal funds in a series of activities that can ensure an increase in the value of the individual practice.  Modest allocations of time and funds  can turn a professional into the practice leader and rainmaker whose calls get deference from the chief marketing officer.

Leveraging Your Reputation: What’s the value of public relations?

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations ( 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

Law firms value public relations differently and success is measured in different ways.  Some PR professionals evaluate their success through ad rate equivalency, the number of LinkedIn connections, website hits, referrals, followers on Twitter and more. But the best way to assess value is in the hearts of attorneys.

When attorneys invest in public relations, they should ask themselves these types of questions:

  1. What will the attorney invest? When an attorney’s phone does not ring with potential clients, public relations and marketing staff inside law firms can end up losing their jobs. However, sometimes attorneys drop the ball by not following up on leads or not making an effort to mingle at conferences. Even if the PR person reminds them to act, or sets up important connections, the attorney has to buy into the process. So they have to work with the PR professional to make the relationship worthwhile.
  2. Where does it fit into the business development plan? A marketing strategy is important whether an attorney ends up being quoted in the New York Times, appears on a TV show, or speaks at a convention. If the plan includes five speaking engagements a year, which eventually yields hundreds of thousands of dollars of new business, then the work that the PR person did might justify their salary.
  3. Will PR people be used tactically or strategically? Some attorneys consider their internal public relations and marketing staff as part of their administrative staff. They might just have them order business cards, update their websites, or write press releases to post online. For those tasks, it would be better to hire an English major who knows basic HTML. However, when a law firm sees their internal marketing people as part of a business development strategy, they can be included in managing partner meetings to decide how to best bring in new business. When they are operating at such a level, then they would be paid more as well.

Overall, it’s important for attorneys to know what they want, and to find the people who are worth hiring to get the value that is desired.

Keep reading and learning about legal marketing (and the Internet)

J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency. 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 spend significant time grooming their online profiles. Websites, social networking sites, professional listings and the like are important tools in your legal marketing and public relations strategy. There are things you can do on your own. There are plenty of resources available online. They keep changing so you have to keep up.

Here are 7 tips and resources:

1.       Mashable is a great resource for all things social media. From news, blogging tips, website and social network information, Mashable is the current industry standard. If you spend some time reviewing the articles, you will find something that peaks your interest. This publication focuses on industry professionals and users alike, so if you find a good idea, save it then find someone to help you execute.

2.       SEO practitioners

Rule #1: You cannot be an expert at something beyond your control that is constantly changing. Even the people who work at Google do not know the secret to page rank. What you can learn from SEO practitioners is the current themes and objectives to appearing in search results. If Mary is looking for a traffic lawyer, there’s a good chance she’s looking to hire one. The SEO practitioners publish frequent content suggesting you can attract Mary to you. Remember, SEO practices change. What is thought to work today might not be true tomorrow, so check back for updates and tips.

3.       Copywriter resources

Copywriting and legal writing come from different planets; in practice, not as much as in theory. Yes we were all taught in law school to write in “plain English” yet we are often verbose. The biggest challenge in shifting to copywriting (for your marketing and public relations activities) is learning succinct writing. Just like the SEO practitioners, there are copywriters who publish online resources instructing on some tips of the trade. One of the keys to good copywriting is learning to create a simple message that people will like and remember.

4.       Linking exercises

Remember the SEO practitioners? They used to preach keyword optimization. The game has changed. Today, while keywords are very important, links are just as crucial. The search engine “spiders” crawl your content, read, and continue on by following links from your page to other pages. Choose your links carefully. You want to link to, and be linked by pages and sites with valuable content and good page rank. The “spiders” don’t know you but they can determine if you have quality links. Again, the SEO practitioners have information on point.

5.       Profile updating

If you update your online profiles, you will attract the “spiders.” I have no proof for this statement but I do have experience noting that sites I frequently update appear more frequently when I search myself or my agency in Google and other search engines. Adding photos and videos to your search engine listings is a good way to generate activity. Sharing links with happy clients who leave positive reviews is also a great way to update your online profiles.

6.       Survey your prospects

Say it with me, “It’s not about me, it’s about them.” If you are a family law attorney writing about the new civil union law, you should make a “why do they care?” list. Your content has a better chance of being rated well when it provides real answers to your audience’s questions. What do they want to know? Instead of guessing, search online for frequently asked question sites. You might be surprised that the information in demand might be some of the real basics.

7.       Start again

This is sure a long list including several assignments. The only way to keep up is to start over, from scratch, from time to time, and you just might learn some permanent skills. Legal marketing and public relations skills are key. If you learn these skills now you can take initiative on your own. You will also know what you’re talking about when someday you hire a firm to take the reigns.

The perks of working for legal aid

Maria Sfreddo is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation where she represents low-income clients in domestic relations matters.  When her fellowship term ends this fall, she will be joining Pasulka & Associates. She can be reached at or  

On a recent flight, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate who also happened to be an attorney; a decision that I soon regretted.  I sat patiently through a litany of his plainly embellished war stories until he finally asked me what kind of law I practiced.  When I told him that I worked for a legal aid agency, he showed genuine confusion.  “That’s just because of the economy, right?  That’s not really what you want to do, is it?”  I fought the urge to knock my Diet Coke into his lap as I explained that it was in fact my intention to work for legal aid and that I had actually gone to great lengths to find the position by writing my own fellowship proposal.

What my big-mouthed neighbor didn’t realize is that working for legal aid has its perks.  There are certainly no year-end bonuses or fancy lunches, and in my office, “expensing it” means putting it on my own Visa, however I do enjoy the perks that are unique to legal aid.

First, I have my own caseload.  Now, I know some of you may be thinking that this is anything but a “perk,” but believe me, it is!  Many of my friends who work for big firms are fielding small tasks on a partner’s case file while others have been condemned to the fiery pits of document review.  I, on the other hand, get the chance to manage every aspect of the case from meeting with the client, to making strategy decisions, to appearing in court. And the last time I did “document review,” it happened to be love letters from prison – and they were juicy.

Second, I am not a prisoner to billable hours.  Because I don’t bill clients for my time, the clock doesn’t dictate how I do my work.  I have always been encouraged by my superiors to take advantage of opportunities that will foster my own professional growth.  I am free to attend trainings that interest me or spend time observing my more experienced colleagues just for the sake of learning.  Now that’s not to say that I skimp on the time that I dedicate to my own cases or that private attorneys don’t also make time to continue learning, but I do enjoy a certain flexibility because I am not concerned about meeting a quota.

Most importantly, I get to take cases that I really believe in.  Clients living in poverty often come to legal aid in crisis.  They may be on the verge of losing their housing or trying to escape an abusive relationship.   When a client comes to me with a case that I know will require substantial resources, I don’t have to turn her away because she won’t be able to afford my fees.  The bulletin board in my office is covered with thank you notes from grateful clients who still can’t seem to believe that they found a lawyer willing to work hard for them for free.  In my opinion, there is no bigger “perk” than the gratitude of a client whose life you have touched.