Monthly Archives: August 2011

Inside Perspective: Enhance your integrity

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. 

“A man (or woman) must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them. “

John C. Maxwell

A source of great discomfort for many people, especially lawyers, is to admit error.  As lawyers, we often look for someone to blame when something goes wrong.  We work hard to find the root cause of the problem.  We do this for several reasons, among them: (1) to assess responsibility and accountability (usually financial) so that the “wrong” can be made “right”; and, (2) to ensure that the same mistake is not repeated.  But what happens when your investigation concludes that you caused the problem or made the mistake?  How many of us are man or woman enough to step up to the plate and take our due, at whatever expense to our career or personal life?

We are not paid to make mistakes.  We are paid to avoid them.  Lawyers live in a grey world where there is usually no course of action that is 100 percent risk free.  Rarely are we involved in a decision that gives us the option of “no risk” versus “certain risk.”  Inherent in the practice of law is the possibility that a minor risk will be realized.  In such cases, clients look for blame, and it is often the lawyer to whom they look first.  This is a hazard of our profession and should be avoidable by fully informing our clients of the risks involved in taking certain actions over certain other actions, and of course, documenting that advice for later reference if needed.

However, what does one do if a real mistake is made and you are the cause?  In my opinion, the best practice is to fess up and admit when you are wrong about an issue and move on.  Being upfront and honest about how the mistake was made and the circumstances surrounding it gives you credibility and ensures your good reputation with your client.  This is very practical, but difficult, advice to both give and to follow.  However, there is terrific upside.  The most important positive long term benefit is that your client will learn to trust you more.  If you can admit that you made a mistake in a certain circumstance, your client will believe you and trust your judgment the next time because she knows that you are not trying to hide anything from her or to simply make yourself look good.

Another reason to be upfront is that the people with whom we work on a daily basis are very smart –  smart enough to figure out if the intention driving your finger pointing is to focus attention everywhere but upon yourself.  They will eventually figure out where the problem originated at which point you will either be immediately out of a job, on your way out of a job, or effectively distrusted to the point where you can no longer perform your job effectively.  A friend of mine told me about an interview he had with the CEO of his company.  The CEO told him that the company is very leanly staffed and if you make a mistake, own up to it and move on – but do not try to hide it because there is nowhere to hide and that it will be discovered sooner or later.  This same friend told me that there have been a couple of times when he has gone to his boss and said, “I screwed up.”  He said, “It isn’t easy to do but easier than I thought it would be before I started the job.”  This lawyer has clearly established himself as a trusted advisor in the company and has developed a relationship with his supervisor that allows this to occur.  Much is to be said for the supervisor who recognizes that people do make mistakes and that allowing them to come clean is a positive approach to dealing with errors and the steps necessary to correct them.

The first step in Maxwell’s advice is to admit the mistake, first to oneself and second to the people to whom you are responsible.  A mistake usually leads to wisdom.  A typical lawyer will then work very hard to correct the mistake (and no doubt succeed in correcting it).  In the end, you will be a better, smarter, more trustworthy attorney.

No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Proverbs 28:13

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Remembering where you came from …

Nancy Mackevich Glazer is the manager of Legal Launch LLC. The goal of Legal Launch 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. For more information, visit LegalLaunch.net or e-mail Nancy@LegalLaunch.net.      

The author dedicates this writing with appreciation to Marianne Deagle, Assistant Dean of Career Services at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. Without Marianne, this writer/career counselor would never have discovered her real passions in law.

The first thing I ask a lawyer or law student who seeks my help in a job search is whether they have contacted and exhausted all possibilities with the counselors in their law school career office (“OCS”). Actually, I dig further. I also ask them if they have contacted the career counselors from their undergraduate or graduate schools. Career services from all of these institutions should be open to students and alumni, and their help shouldn’t cost a dime.

Your law school career counselor should be your BFF

In fact, I think it is impossible to “exhaust” all possibilities and opportunities with one’s law school or undergrad OCS. An attorney/ law student should be having ongoing conversations with her (a) career counselors, (b) their staffs, (c) their constantly-updated websites, (d) their alumni-bolstered job boards and (e) their alumni databases. (A jobseeker must be sensitive, however, that OCS staff are quite busy in the fall.)

Lest you answer that your OCS is unhelpful … After I cringe, I would respond, “Huh?” 

Don’t ever dismiss what the OCS folks can do for you. They are there for you and should be there for you years past your graduation date. Remember, these overworked and finely-tuned- in- to -the-market advisers weren’t the ones who brought on the recession; they didn’t promulgate the rules about your student loans; and they weren’t responsible for the glut of lawyers looking for legal work.  They are there, helping those who need it.

As jobseekers well know, all the rules of employment changed in the middle of the recent law school game. The OCS staff is learning and playing by those new rules too.

What can the OCS staff and their resources do for you? Not only does the staff become aware of openings in the market and post those positions, but the team also sees new hiring trends in changing practice areas, and they keep apprised of new hiring models for attorneys.

In addition, your alma mater has a vested interest in YOU. If you look good, so does your law school.

Bottom line — doing what’s best for you

If you badly need a job, you have to do what’s best for you, no doubt. Once you have made use of some of these valuable resources, I suggest you take it even a step further.

A novel thought … Help the OCS when you can; it will come back to you in spades

Your OCS counselors know the market. I suggest that you do what you can to become a part of that office. If you really want to benefit from the ever-alert eyes and ears of the OCS staff, create a relationship that travels a two-way street.

Maybe they need a speaker on a panel who has been out there, volunteering at the Daley Center or accepting ongoing temporary work. Maybe one of your counselors has a son interested in attending your undergraduate university; possibly you can offer her son some first-hand advice.

If you haven’t been utilizing the resources of the OCS in the best way, I suggest that you start now. The more you give, surprise, the more you may receive in return. Once you get to know these folks and they get to know you, perhaps an opportunity with your name on it will land on one of their desks. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

You may discover that it pays big to remember from where you came …

Tips for new clerks

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.

It’s the time of the year where summer law clerks or summer associates are headed back to school. For those that do stay on at firms, or are now just beginning a clerkship at a firm, the transition from summer employment to a more permanent position can be challenging.  Our firm has a new law clerk that started. With his recent arrival, we came up with some points to keep in mind on both sides of the fence.  Many thanks to our clerk, Patrick Longworth for his assistance on this blog post.

1. Get to know your co-workers

This is obviously very important but we’ve all seen really bright people coming straight out of law school who can seem reclusive and distant in the workplace. This is probably mostly due to nerves but staying in your shell can really make it hard to fit in at first and can alienate co-workers. A healthy office environment is one where everyone can work together effectively and you really have to know the people you work with for this to happen. A clerk might be really good at any legal task they’re given but that’s not what it’s all about. So new clerks should introduce themselves to everyone, ask others questions about what they like and offer a few things about themselves.

2. Get to know the office

Knowing the people you work with is one thing but knowing the office dynamic is another equally important part of a clerk’s job. If your hours are 9-5 and you’re the only one who clocks out at 5 on the dot everyday then you’re probably not making a good impression. At the same time, if everyone goes out for lunch some day and you stay at your desk working through lunch, that won’t help your cause too much either. So try to take everything in.

4. Ask questions

This applies in nearly all walks of life but it’s particularly true in the legal profession. It’s very easy to misunderstand a task or get stuck on something complex and confusing, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions when you are. It’s the only way you’ll get on the right track. It might be something simple like asking what the exact motion you’re doing research for is called or asking for clarification on a particular thing your boss asked you to do. But nobody benefits from a new clerk feeling lost, not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing and working on something different to what they were asked, purely because of a simple misunderstanding.

5. Remember it’s not law school

I read a survey of practicing lawyers recently where they were asked how much of what they do on a daily basis was learned in law school and the average answer was less than 10 percent. This probably comes as no surprise to most of us but learning the law and practicing it are obviously two totally different things. New clerks should not expect to be working on appeals to the Supreme Court debating some age-old precedent. But a lot of what we all studied in law school was like that and so we shouldn’t be surprised to see clerks struggling with what may seem like simple procedural matters when they’re thrown in at the deep end. People skills, both with co-workers and clients are just as important as legal skills when it comes to practicing law.

6. Understand your clients’ needs

When performing a task for a particular client, it’s important to understand exactly what they want. Take a commercial client, for example. It may want to complete a complex merger or acquisition of another company to expand their operations and your task may be to figure out exactly how to complete such a transaction. These transactions can be very complex and troublesome in a number of respects for all involved. However, doing a little research on the client’s business, either on your own or by asking direct questions, may be all it takes for you to come up with an alternative proposal for business expansion. This is obviously a very basic example but it applies to non-commercial clients as well. Knowing a little can go a long way.

Being inquisitive and willing to dig deeper into issues goes a long way when clerking at a firm. Take advantage of the tasks you work on day to day. You can never go wrong.

How many fishermen land the big one on the last cast?

 J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Pro Serve PR, a public relations firm serving law and professional service firms. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in legal marketing, public relations, and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and innovation with legal job seekers.

Avoid applicant apathy by practicing confidence and discipline. Apathy is a consistent problem facing job applicants. If you really spent an eight-hour work day job hunting, you would find a position. Too often, I hear people tell me they found a document review position and are not actively looking for work. Happily underemployed are we? Discipline and confidence are your best allies when looking for a new position or a new client.

You think it is tough landing an interview or a call back? Try working in sales or running a business that needs a steady stream of new clients. The process of researching a lead, pitching a meeting, presenting and eventually closing a deal, is quite similar to a professional job search. Do you know anyone who works in client engagement? I would find someone who is experienced in capturing opportunities to meet and earn the interview. Ask people and learn about the flow of business and follow custom and practice.

The great threat to losing clients or a job is apathy. We often get comfortable and take relationships for granted. Try picturing your competitor pitch a current client. Consider the job seekers sending resumes to apply for your job. When we become apathetic, others notice. By exercising a healthy level of fear of loss we exude commitment.

Discipline in job seeking ensures better success. When you treat your search like a paid job you will likely keep better track of leads, organize your follow up and make your best presentation. When you sit you rust; the longer you are out of work, the more comfortable you present. Don’t be too comfortable. A winning candidate must present as eager, confident and sharp. While job seeking, continue to maintain a daily work schedule, dress for success, attend networking meetings and keep the energy level up.

The confidence game is often tough to play. We are often our worst enemy when it comes to having the confidence to execute our plans and shoot for goals. At some point you ask yourself, what does the next successful person have that I don’t? How easily your positions could be reversed. Simply, if you are confident you can execute, you will. If you doubt your ability to deliver, you won’t.

The people in job search mode know the market is competitive. Do the employers know? Don’t they just hear the word on the street? Most employers have some idea about employment rates, and I think many of them think about it frequently. Where it is business as usual for many, applicants should likewise act as if nothing is wrong and it isn’t odd that this is their 500th interview. Don’t wear job terror on you like a stink. If you have paid job gaps, talk about the pro bono at the law center.

By exercising discipline, confidence and a bit of common sense you too can fight apathy and keep your head in the game. Your next job could be just around the corner, just make one more call, send one more resume. How many fishermen land the big one on the last cast?

Q&A with Ray Bayley

Ray Bayley is the president and CEO of Novus Law and has worked on a variety of complex litigation matters.  He is based in Chicago and is a former managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ North American Business Process Outsourcing organization and former member of the firm’s management committee.  He is currently a member of the advisory boards of the Corporate Counsel Institute at Georgetown University Law Center and the Legal Transformation Study: Your 2020 Vision of the Future.

What important advice do you have for lawyers who are responsible for complex litigation, especially the review, management and analysis of documents?

Based on our experience, I believe that the most important advice for lawyers involved in litigation is to learn (or acquire through business arrangements) the new skills needed in today’s legal marketplace. Managing litigation with the facts buried in many gigabytes of electronically stored data requires a new set of skills that lawyers typically didn’t learn in law school or haven’t been exposed to elsewhere.

The unbridled growth of electronically stored information, complexity of matters, use and implications of technology, has caused document review to evolve from reasonably straightforward legal work into an unmanageably complex exercise unless business process principles are brought to bear on the problem.  That requires skills that are new to many lawyers.  While reviewing, managing and analyzing documents requires lawyers to provide the direction and supervision, which is work that should be done by a lawyer, the actual process of organizing and processing mountains of information requires skills that are often not found in law firms.  These skills include (1) designing and documenting detailed work processes, (2) building and implementing statistically-based quality control systems and (3) creating and delivering competency development programs that assures that the people doing the work have the capabilities necessary to process large amounts of information accurately, efficiently and cost effectively.

What are the biggest challenges lawyers have in this area?

Most lawyers pass through the document review phase of their careers early and rather quickly.  Senior lawyers think document review is a rite of passage for young lawyers.  But as clients become more demanding and the unabated growth and complexity of document review continues, it becomes an increasingly bigger challenge for lawyers to meet the needs and expectations of their clients while fulfilling their ethical obligation for “competent representation.”

What suggestions do you have for lawyers who are trying to meet these challenges?

Whether they decide to spend the time and money to build the skills necessary to provide document review services within their law firms or work with experienced third-parties who already have them, all lawyers and their law firms should have at a minimum:

  • Documented and rigorously controlled work processes for document review, which can and should be independently certified.  Such processes would identify each and every step necessary to review and produce documents, so nothing is forgotten and everything is done as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.
  • Structured and statistically-based quality control systems, which can also be independently certified.  Such systems would measure the accuracy of the work as it is being done and when it is complete to ensure that the lawyers can meet their obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and other instructions provided by the Court or agreed to with an opposing party.  Most importantly, the quality control programs will help assure that all relevant documents are produced, but no privileged documents are produced.  When relying on technology solutions or contract lawyers with no stake in the law firm to meet this standard, law firms are asking for trouble.
  • Competency development programs to ensure that lawyers who provide or supervise the document review process have the necessary skills. Such competencies are best learned with well-documented training programs and demonstrated through testing and certification.

How do you think this area of specialization will change in the years ahead?

When Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he wasn’t thinking about e-discovery, document review and the challenges lawyers will continue to face in this increasingly complex and foreign practice area.  It’s certain that electronically stored information will continue to grow unabated and the solutions needed to meet this ever-increasing challenge will continue to require skills other than what most lawyers learn in law schools.  Lawyers are problem solvers.  The best way to solve this problem is to apply business process principles to the tasks and design quality control programs that assure that the processes are adhered to and produce the desired results  This requires lawyers to make significant investments to learn new skills or engage qualified third-parties to help them.

How much is my time worth?

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales.  When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.

Last week, the document review project I had been working on all summer ended abruptly.  In this industry, that just happens and there is really no one to blame. Such is the nature of temp work.

Those of us who find ourselves doing document review out of economic necessity take jobs based on a rather simple cost/benefit analysis:

  • Are reviewers treated as an important part of the litigation process?
  • Are directions clear, and are questions about the review addressed consistently?
  • Is the review in a convenient location?
  • Can we listen to podcasts or music while we work?
  • Is the office comfortable?
  • Are the hours flexible so we can go to interviews or appointments if we have them?
  • How much do we get paid?

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the last factor trumps all of the rest. Having been offered contracts as low as fifteen to twenty dollars an hour for document review, I’ve asked myself several times, “Isn’t my time worth more?”  What is a recent grad to do during downtime between projects that will maintain their value as a legal professional?

My strategy is threefold, but purely experimental. First, take some time to tailor resumes and cover letters for jobs you really want. In my experience, it is important to dedicate either one day a week or a few hours per day twice a week to this task. I found that spending more time than that made my job search too broad and created unneeded additional stress. I was applying for jobs I did not really want or that I was not a good fit for and I was overwhelmed with waiting to hear back from any of the places I applied.

Next, I try to do something fun that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Who knows when you might get another chance to play video games all day, make homemade ice cream or read library books without interruption?  Someone is going to have to pay me good money pull you away from doing things you really love all day long, as well they should.

Finally, and this is something that I have to admit I have done less than I should, take the time to get coffee or beer with an old law school classmate or fellow document reviewer who is going through underemployment. Not only is it good to know that you are not alone, but it can also be helpful to bounce career ideas off of each other. You are going to meet some people through temping with really incredible backgrounds and experiences to share. You will also meet some weirdoes, but such is life.

As of yesterday, I have another document review contract starting next week, and this one pays more than any of my previous ones. Whether this is due to coincidence, strategy or the fact that I’m getting more experienced, I have no idea. But I do have peanut-butter-cup ice cream in the freezer with my name written all over it.

View From the Classroom: Practical training

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.

The Carnegie Foundation unleashed a flurry of activity four years ago when it released its study and recommendations on law school education, “Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law.”  Law schools, professional organizations, and law teachers laudably scrambled to study, digest, comment on, and even implement the recommendations, which largely centered around creating a more integrated curriculum with pervasive skills training and serious attention to professional responsibility.

But while the Carnegie Report refocused our attention on an integrated curriculum infused with skills training and professional responsibility, these ideas are not new.  Professional organizations like the Clinical Legal Education Association and the Legal Writing Institute have been promoting like ideas for some time now.  Some law schools have boldly experimented with them; others have built their entire curriculum around them.  And many teachers around the country and around the world have long-ago worked these ideas into their classes.

Indeed, the Carnegie Report appeared around the same time as Roy Stuckey’s “Best Practices for Legal Education,” and it stands on the shoulders of Robert MacCrate’s classic “Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap,” even if the emphasis is somewhat different.  Like ideas have a strong basis in the broader literature on educational theory and philosophy, perhaps most notably in the work of educational innovator John Dewey.

But these ideas have an even longer history.  As Rick Wilson, professor and director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the American University, recently told a group at a conference of the Global Alliance for Justice Education, Professor Blewitt Lee (a student of Christopher Columbus Langdell, who pioneered the case method) said this to the ABA in 1896:

It is odd if our profession is the only one in which students cannot have a practical training before they enter upon their life-work.  The medical student can have clinical instruction and hospital practice.  The clergyman, ere the seminary doors close behind him, can inflict his maiden efforts on his fellows, or on the weaker flocks of the faithful.  The civil engineer has already had a goodly share of field work before he leaves the technological halls.  But in this year of grace, most law students still go forth upon a long suffering public having only read books and disputed over them.  The evil of this condition cannot be remedied by any half measures, or cheap devices or cheap men.  To give practical instruction in law work will require immense intellectual labor, and the finest quality of teaching—but let us not say it is impossible because we have never done it, or even because we cannot do it.  I will even go so far as to admit that the difficulty of teaching the theory of the law may be child’s play compared to that of teaching its actual application to human affairs.

Despite over a century of innovation in legal education, the recommendations of the MacCrate Report, “Best Practices” and the Carnegie Report, and the good work of CLEA, LWI, and other organizations, Lee’s statement seems as relevant today as it was in 1896.

With the start of a new school year, we all have a new opportunity to revisit these ideas in our own classrooms, in our schools, and in the way we do legal education more generally—to deliver on Lee’s target of giving “practical instruction in law” and teaching the law’s “actual application to human affairs.”