Monthly Archives: September 2011

Leveraging Your Reputation: Make your videos better

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.

Videos are becoming more popular for attorneys who want to add more media to their websites or who want to upload videos to YouTube or Vimeo. Creating videos is a great idea, but there are some basic things you should know to improve the quality of your videos and to maintain your audience as well.

Audio matters. People assume that having a good image is the most important part of creating a great video, but if your audio isn’t good, people will tune out. Try to record in a quiet place, preferably one that is carpeted, so that there isn’t any ambient sound. You can also get good audio in a few other ways. One way is to hold the camera (or phone, if you’re using one) right up to the person who is speaking, and wear headphones to monitor the quality. Another way is to get an external microphone for your video recorder, or a clip-on microphone to put on yourself or another person you’re recording.

The best way to get good audio is to use a separate recorder, such as a handheld audio recorder, which you can sync up with the video when you edit it all together. That last method requires advanced skills, but if you already know how to edit video, then you can learn how to integrate your audio file into the process so that you get superior sound.

Light the subject. Since the subject of your video is the most important, make sure the most light is focused on him or her. First choose a darker area to focus the camera because it adjusts to brightness. The light source should be behind you, not behind the subject. The best light is natural light, and one way you can get natural  light is by standing in front of a window to allow the light to shine from behind you onto the subject.

Use a tripod. You might think you have a steady hand, but when you use a tripod, it ensures that the camera will be still. Not only does a tripod prevent movement, but it also helps your video look sharp, not grainy or blurry.

Finally, if each video you create covers only one topic and is short (10 minutes or less), your audience will pay attention and will be able to find your videos easier. And as I’ve said before about other types of promotion, be sure to choose a niche so that you become an expert in that area.

Participation in alumni activities

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm serving the law and finance industries. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in legal marketing, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice model. Nick shares career growth strategy and experience with legal job seekers.

When preparing for a job search, your first stop is most likely the career services office. Make an alumni event your second spot. I can think of no better group with whom you can share your cheers and jeers while keeping in touch with your friends and meeting new people. Law schools and alumni both have everything to gain from alumni event engagement. Seize the opportunity and participate in the alumni networking process using these 5 methods: (1) meetings; (2) invitations; (3) follow-up; (4) programming; and (5) drafting.

First, the meeting method is the easiest to adopt and commit to habit. Simply locate your law school’s alumni event schedule and calendar your appearance at all the relevant events. There are times you might have other things going on and you don’t want to go to all of these events. I suggest you go anyways. After a while, event hosts make note of the regular attendees and simply by being present you earn value points.

Next, the invitation method assumes you are attending regular meetings and events so you are there when the more elite events are discussed, and you just happen to receive an invitation. Invitations to certain law school events are extended to a limited list of active alumni. The more frequently the people in charge of the lists think of you, the more likely your inbox will contain invitations to the more elite receptions and events.

Then, the follow-up method, after meeting new people at the exclusive events, requires proper planning and execution. First set time parameters for your initial follow-up, next cause for communication, and periodic good will greetings. I suggest calendaring these activities. Where appropriate you should ask new friends if they would like an invitation to stay in touch through your social and professional networks. Always maintain professionalism when engaging colleagues, regardless of your level of familiarity, maintain candor.

After capturing your human capital, i.e., valuable contacts and relationships are assets; the programming method presents the opportunity to give back to the group with a proposal for a new event. Programming can be an event, educational seminar, webinar, teleseminar or other medium through which alumni groups bring people together to work toward a stated purpose.

Finally, the drafting method of alumni participation concerns content your group will value. Think about how much there is to communicate among alumni and how little time most alumni administrators have to write articles, and material used to promote and engage group members. Simply attending an event and writing about it for the alumni newsletter is a great way to get your name out there and help the group.

Engaging your alumni associations and offering your time, talent and treasure are all great ways to meet more colleagues and reconnect with friends who are a great resource when you find yourself in transition. Don’t be shy about approaching the alumni directors; I am sure they will be pleased by your offer of service.

Every job is a sales job

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University School of Law Chicago 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.

Throughout law school, I bought and sold textbooks on Amazon. I price my items competitively and provide accurate and honest descriptions of their condition, with a little note, “All orders ship from Chicago, IL.” I think this addition helps my business because people in the Midwest and both coasts think of Chicago as close to them.

After law school, I experienced a surge in sales. This was extremely exciting. It reminded me of my days working as an account executive for an information technology reseller while I attended evening law school for two years. I made my bids as low as possible to win business from government agencies while continuing to make a profit. But I decided this career wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the cold calling, customer service, data entry, working with pesky sales tracking and customer relations software—I needed to move on.

When making the precarious decision about whether I wanted to take out huge loans and go to law school, I didn’t have anyone close to me to ask for guidance. Our family friends who are attorneys were people I considered inaccessible for the mere fact that, well, they were attorneys. I thought they couldn’t possibly have time to talk to me about this. Consequently, I purchased a book to help with my decision:  “In Our Defense:  The Bill of Rights in Action,” Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy (1992).

Much like the constitutional law topics addressed in this book, law school encouraged me to think about the big picture. We discussed things like parental rights versus state intervention, free speech, gay marriage equality, internet privacy, corporate mergers. Also, we spent hours on the minutia of interstate commerce as it relates to the delivery of milk, subject matter jurisdiction as it relates to entry into the stream of commerce, and the strict typography requirements for formatting a 7th Circuit appellate brief.  The latter topics dominated the lectures and would put me to sleep every evening after I’d worked a full day. I’d be worried about meeting commission goals, how my dismal attempts at making cold calls were being noticed by superiors, and whether the sales trip to the Caribbean that I’d just won would run into my finals schedule. (Thankfully, it did not.) When I was at work, I thought of torts and contracts. When I was at school, I thought of closing just one more large order before the end of the quarter. I didn’t even make up my mind about quitting my sales job until about halfway through my 2L year in 2008.

I have now been working in the real world long enough to see the multiple ironies in this. Every job is ultimately a sales job—and I mean this in the most literal meaning of the phrase. There will be performance metrics, customer service, superiors, meetings, etc., even if by different names. If you don’t believe me, just ask the person who works on development for your firm or non-profit organization. Everything that an organization does is measured and utilized as a way to gather more support, budget, profit or what have you. Your work is almost always billed hourly and bid out amongst multiple firms before you are hired. If you have ever worked for a corporation where there are sales trips, incentives and commissions, chances are it was not a law firm. That trip I won to the Caribbean (and I won more than one of them) will never be replicated while working for a small or medium-sized law firm—unless maybe I get into maritime law, an option which I still consider from time to time.

Last week I received an email from Amazon that I’d sold “In Our Defense:  The Bill of Rights in Action.” The past year since being sworn into the bar has been extremely rough for me, bouncing from doc review to doc review and being scrutinized about my litigation experience in job interviews that required zero years of experience. I have yet to encounter an assignment that relates to a “big picture” constitutional law topic. Since the world brought me and this woman I’d never met together through e-commerce, I decided to make a bold move. I inserted a small note into the book before I mailed it to my customer in the Baltimore area: “If you are not already in law school, and you are considering it, please e-mail or call me first. I’d love to chat. Thanks for the sale. –Angie”

Take care of yourself

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.

“Mens sana in corpore sano.” As sharp and active Latin scholars, most lawyers will know the meaning and value of the old saying. However, many of us don’t have the healthy bodies needed to nourish healthy minds. We often hear statistics about high rates of depression among lawyers in addition to other serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and drug/alcohol addiction. These can be avoided with less effort than many of us think.

And getting more exercise is one of the best ways of doing it. One study I saw last year found that an unhealthy lifestyle has the biggest bearing on a person’s likelihood of suffering from cardiovascular disease; even when compared with family history. People with a very low genetic risk for cardiovascular disease can easily become highly at-risk, from a lack of exercise.

Many of us eat generally well but a lack of exercise is a feature of the lives of many lawyers. So why don’t we? There are lots of reasons why many lawyers don’t live completely healthy lifestyles. A lot of us are busy. We get out of the office late. We don’t have time to and from travel to the gym, let alone actually work out while we’re there.

But, to some extent, these can be just excuses. There are simple, small changes that nearly all of us can all do to get some more exercise. And if you haven’t really been active since law school or before, then small changes are safer because a sudden leap back into intensive training could end up getting you seriously hurt.

Just 30 minutes a day, for example, can make a huge difference. You could buy an exercise bike and do fifteen minutes when you get up in the morning and 15 minutes when you get home.

Other simple things that we’ve heard before like taking the stairs in work instead of the elevator (although I work on the 37th floor of my building so I have a ready-made excuse here) and walking to the store instead of driving are small changes that can make a big difference. And once you get into the habit of exercising, you’ll find it much easier to do more.

Some people find it very beneficial to hire a personal trainer. Obviously this option would give you the advantage of an individual and reliable long-term plan, tailored to your needs and abilities. But another important advantage of having a personal trainer can be the elimination of excuses; a good trainer will be watching over you, making sure you stick to your plan.

And it really can sharpen our minds as well. At the end of a tedious stressful day, tension can build up and leave us ready to explode. Physical exercise channels all this energy in a healthy way and can help shake that feeling of sluggishness that many of us wake up with and improve concentration levels. And, the release of endorphins acts as a natural stress-reliever.

So there is some science behind the old saying. And a little more exercise, in addition to all the other benefits it brings, can lead to an improved performance at work.

Professionalism and engagement programs

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Pro Serve PR, a public relations firm serving the law and finance industries. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in legal marketing, public relations, and his Secured Solo Practice model. Nick shares career growth strategy and experience with legal job seekers.

Your law schools are there to help. This week, I attended the Professionalism and Engagement Appreciation Luncheon at The John Marshall Law School to honor the local judges, justices and practitioners for their generous assistance and dedication to helping law students prepare for their career in law. The Office of Professionalism and Engagement, directed by recently retired Illinois Appellate Court Justice Margaret O’Mara Frossard, prepares students to compete with the best and uphold the standards of the legal profession.

Law students who embrace professionalism are more likely to advance quickly and earn respect from colleagues. Professionalism and engagement efforts focus on several practice management functions such as marketing, management, technology and finance. In a competitive marketplace, with so many opportunities for referrals, our best ambassadors are those who know, like and trust us.

Justice Frossard offered the following statement: “We appreciate the fact that over one hundred  members of the legal community  have committed to our in-classroom professionalism program which addresses the challenge presented to law schools by the Carnegie report , namely, to teach professionalism across the curriculum to IL’s, 2L’s and 3L’s. With this innovative program we are bringing judges and practitioners into the classrooms to explain what professionalism means, how to resolve ethical problems in a professional manner and most importantly, what professional skills are valued by employers in the workplace.”

Students should seek out programs that prepare them for the real world and the business of law practice. Look for professional responsibility professors, practice management lecturers and your career services staff who can identify useful resources in the pursuit of professionalism. Current student, Yolanda Delgado comments: “The John Marshall Law School’s Office of Professionalism and Engagement provides students and recent graduates invaluable preparation to achieve the skills valued by employers.”

Lawyers, judges and law school faculty working on professionalism outreach at the law school level to give students an opportunity to start their career with solid footing. I strongly suggest students get involved and take advantage of these opportunities so that law school administrators continue to develop and promote these programs. Ask your law school professors how they can help you move from academia to business. Get involved!

View From the Classroom: Our talented 1Ls

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.

Every year, it seems, our incoming class is more and more impressive.  Our first-year students, here and around the country, come to us with prior work experiences in a wide range of fields, advanced degrees, diverse skills and talents, and mature thinking capabilities.  More importantly, they come to us with life experiences, significant responsibilities, street-smarts, and know-how.  More and more, our incoming students have been around the block, both in the academy and in life.

But we don’t always treat them this way.  Our first-semester curriculum too often treats incoming students more like high-schoolers, or even middle-schoolers.  We organize them in packs; we tell them what to do and when to do it; and we question, intimidate, and scold them, often in front of their new friends, in the openness of our large classes.  Worse: Our first-semester curriculum too often and too early teaches them that law is determinate, syllogistic, rote, and even amoral—that if we simply plug the right facts into the right formula, the law will give us the right answer.

Later in the semester, our curriculum leads them just the opposite way and teaches that law is relative—that attorneys can always make an argument both ways.  This roller-coaster ride can too often leave our first-semester students with the mistaken impression that attorneys are just mechanical hired guns for whatever cause or client happens to pay them.  In short, our first-semester curriculum can too often take our thoughtful, reflective, experienced, and mature incoming students and turn them into automatons.

Our curriculum does all this in the name of teaching law.  I suppose the theory is that we should treat our incoming students like they don’t know anything about the law, because, after all, they don’t know much about the law.  And moreover, we can safely ignore any mature intellectual or moral capabilities that they bring to law school, because learning the law requires learning a new way of thinking.  Finally, we can help them develop as mature legal thinkers later—after we have imparted the basics.  I suppose the theory is something like what they do in the military: break them down before we build them back up.

But this a waste.  In the name of teaching law, we sacrifice all the capabilities that our talented 1Ls bring to us.  We too often ask them to check their experiences, their advanced degrees, their life skills, their street-smarts, and their know-how at the door so that they can learn how to think like a lawyer.  They may indeed learn how to think like a lawyer, but in the process they can too often forget to think like a human being.

We need not treat our talented 1Ls like this.  We can teach so as to build upon, not break down, their sophisticated and mature skills and capabilities.  We can teach so as to retain and apply, not check, their prior moral commitments.  And we can teach to capitalize on, not forget, their life experiences.  In short, even within the institutional constraints of the first semester, we can treat our 1Ls with the dignity and respect that we all deserve.

Inside Perspective: The Golden Rule

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.

The Golden Rule, also known as the ethic of reciprocity, in its various manifestations and restatements over thousands of years forms the basis for almost every culture in human history.  Why then is it so hard to abide by this seemingly simple rule?  More importantly, why is it so hard for lawyers to practice it?

We are duty bound to zealously represent our clients.  Some lawyers treat this duty as a license to use every dirty trick in the dirty lawyer book to accomplish the client goals, as long as those tricks don’t technically violate a rule or cross an ethical line.  Lawyers are human beings and as such are not immune to moral and ethical dilemmas.  All of us, lawyer and non-lawyer, face choices every day.  Those choices have consequences – good and bad.  Many times, the prospect of personal or professional gain distracts us from making the right choice – the choice that we would want our similarly situated colleagues to make were the roles reversed.

Practicing the Golden Rule in our personal and professional lives should be the very essence of what it is to be a lawyer.   But, how do we reconcile our ethical obligations to our client with the universal of the Golden Rule?  That is somewhat of a trick question as I do not think they are necessarily at odds.

Lawyers have a system of rules governing the substance of what we do every day (statutes, regulations, court rules, case law) as well as ethical rules which govern our conduct.  When we play in the lawyering space, we play knowing that these rules are in place – we accept them as a given, something that comes with the privilege of practicing law.  Smart lawyers know and understand the rationale for these rules and do their best to mind both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Part of what it means to act zealously is to work to test and sometimes change the law.  In order to do this, we sometimes have to advance arguments that might seem specious to some, valid to others.  In addition to the law, lawyers must deal with people.  People are a part of everything we do.  Our clients provide us with strategic business plans, advertising copy, lists of people affected by reductions in force, contracts and the facts in litigation matters.  When one understands the fluid nature of the law and that facts are recollected by people with differing perspectives of what occurred, there is almost always room for legitimate arguments to be made.  However, making legitimate arguments is a far cry from manipulating the system, committing mischief, playing dirty or treating others poorly.  There is never a legitimate excuse for failing to practice the ethic of reciprocity, the Golden Rule.

As lawyers, we should first and foremost represent our clients to the best of our ability.  This does not imply taking cheap shots at opposing counsel or making frivolous arguments.  Rather, implicit in this duty is the responsibility to act within the bounds of the rules set in place by the authorities that govern our practice.  As a profession with a high calling, it is also our duty and responsibility to put ourselves into the position of the lawyer (and the client) on the other side of the matter and act according to the principles of the ethic of reciprocity.  Respect that lawyer and her client as you expect to be respected.  Treat the lawyer and her client the way that you expect and deserve to be treated.  Do not be underhanded, do not lie.  Abide by the Golden Rule in whichever manifestation you recognize it.

“…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Leviticus 10:18