Monthly Archives: October 2011

Trick or treat? Document review horror stories for Halloween!

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). Jill oversees the successful recruitment of attorneys, paralegals and contract legal professionals. Jill (and the Blackman team) staffs document reviews using qualified contract attorneys and thus, works with attorneys-in-transition daily. You can follow her at twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

WARNING:  This post is riddled with eye-rolling Halloween puns and references.

In honor of Halloween, I thought it fitting to share document review horror stories for a laugh (though, not a ha-ha laugh, more like an evil witch laugh). Working in the staffing industry makes me privy to some pretty spooky stories (ok fine – it’s gossip, but just for this one Halloween post).  When confronted with situations similar to the bloodcurdling scenarios below, it’s appropriate to run screaming in horror to your next, less terrifying document review.

  1. On one paper document review where contract attorneys were paid a measly $15/hr, dead rodents were found in the boxes!
  2. There once was a document review so petrifying that the fire marshal came to shut it down due to overcrowding.
  3. Goblins and ghouls are not as scary as working in a moldy basement.
  4. There is nothing more chilling than arriving to a project promising 60 hours and time and a half for OT to learn that the hours are actually capped at 40 – especially when you are making $25/hr.
  5. Talk about hair-raising! Recently contractors earning $28/hr learned mid project that their hourly rate was being reduced to $25/hr effective immediately. All I can say is BOOOOO!
  6. Attorneys were herded into a law firm’s creepy basement to sit on hard chairs. They were supervised at all times by a law firm attorney who would not pay them for hours they were required to spend waiting for him to return from meetings. Horrifying AND illegal!
  7. Contract attorneys at work in an agency facility were told not to drink the agency’s coffee, congregate in break rooms, and were forced to take a longer route to the restroom in order to avoid being seen by temp agency employees. Sounds like these contractors work working for the Witches of Code-wick (ok, that was a stretch)!

Document review projects should be less like haunted houses that rattle like the chains in a skeleton’s closet and more like a nice calm game of bobbing for apples (or in this case, bobbing for the relevant documents). Have a happy and safe Halloween full of scary costumes, piles of junk food and spook-free gainful employment!

Leveraging Your Reputation: Stay professional

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.

Even though competition is becoming fiercer every day, it’s always important to do the best job possible and represent yourself and your firm in the most professional way. I was thinking about this when I recently saw examples of attorneys who produce cheap commercials that use gimmicks and stunts, or express extreme emotions, such as bitterness and anger. Some attorneys use clichés, such as posing as superheroes beating the villainous bad guys, while others use silly or tacky images that they think will get them more clients.

One firm that handles divorce advertises their services on billboards with half-dressed women and men to motivate people to hire them if they’ve become dissatisfied with marriage. They’ve even started selling merchandise with those images. They’re probably making money, but at what cost? It cheapens their image.

What is unfortunate is that attorneys have gotten a lot of education to get where they are, yet they are behaving in such a way that reflects barely any education or sophistication. Marketing gimmicks are a great way to create buzz, and controversy will get people’s attention, but it’s a short-term fix.

Here’s something to think about: Do you want to make money at any cost, or do you want to maintain your professional reputation and the respect of your colleagues and peers? You should always consider what kind of image you want people to walk away with, and I think it’s best to avoid crazy tactics to reel clients in. It’s better to behave like a professional because cheapening yourself won’t help your reputation in the long run.

Interview with a vampire

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.

Attorneys who have spent any time doing document review over the past few years know that it can be poorly received on a resume. If you are lucky enough to get an interview for a legal job outside of the document review world, you could spend half the interview explaining exactly what document review is.  You could also be faced with a myriad of questions about when the last time you did actual legal writing or appeared in court was. And, if that time was over a year ago when you were in law school, you might spend the entire interview feeling a little foolish for having put on your good power suit and taken time off your doc review job to go talk about your glory days from the past. Biting questions like these can make a doc review attorney feel like they need to carry around wooden crosses and garlic spray. So what do you do when, despite your impressive resume, you find yourself in an interview with a vampire?

When interviewing for more traditional legal jobs, attorneys who have been doing document review can face an uphill battle. Discovery is such an important aspect of the litigation process. The work is by no means easy. Typically, each case requires learning a completely new, usually scientific subject matter, cast of characters involved in the case, and area of law. Nonetheless, what happens in e-discovery is largely invisible to attorneys who do not regularly work in this area. If an interviewer asks why you were only at your last job for less than a month, what the size of your caseload is like at your current position, or exclaims, “That sounds awful!” after you explain what document review is (all of which have happened to me during interviews), what can you do to prevent major blood loss from the bite wounds?

My best advice is to take your cue from one of the best, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Keep a close network of friends that you can (usually) trust and who will allow you to vent about all of your near-death encounters with people who devalue the work done by document reviewers. Don’t give up. People do find meaningful legal work after spending years in document review because many firms do understand that it takes a quick-learner who is goal-oriented, persistent and disciplined to last in the document review world. Finally, hone and display your “slaying” skills. Highlight writing, research, client counseling and trial work that you’ve done on a volunteer basis since graduation. Most of all don’t be ashamed of who you are and where you came from.

Remember, it is literally a battlefield out there. If you are used to getting the job whenever you get the interview, things have changed; it’s not necessarily you. If some interviews left you feeling “drained,” I have two more suggestions. Try scheduling your next one during daylight. Also, wear silver.

Spontaneous Exclamations: Early priorities part 2

 Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held.  He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, commercial finance, and non-profit law.  Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or  akatz@harrisonheld.com.

This is part two of a two-part series that offers a few pointers about networking to build your business and reputation.

3.         But I’m Young and Don’t Know Anybody Who Needs Legal Services!

Touché!  I respond thusly: Imagine you are a tiny tadpole swimming around your little law school castle at the bottom of a fishbowl covered in that peculiar shiny neon gravel.  There are tiny fish swimming around with you going about their business, checking out their little fishy lockers containing their little fishy law books and writing little fishy case briefs in preparation for class.  Now you, tadpole, have decided that you are going to one day become a big old toad and leave this fishbowl, but you are anxious because you don’t know anybody outside of your bowl.

First, you realize that you may have family members who already are toads out in the world beyond the bowl.  For those who do, you generally have your foot in the door already with family and family friends.  Take them to lunch, pick their brains, and most importantly, establish a relationship.  I have found that most people I’ve attempted to network with enjoy assisting people in the beginning of their careers.  Generally people like to pass down the fruits of their knowledge because someone did it for them when they were just starting out too.  It’s like that movie that nobody has ever seen but somehow knows the title: Pay it Forward.  Furthermore, what goes around, comes around.  One day you might be in the position to assist the person who helped you out in the past.  In other words, don’t forget those who lifted you up to where you need to be, and always send handwritten thank you notes!!!

Lastly, take a look at the other little fishies swimming around the bowl.  Some may go on to become attorneys, others will go into business and other occupations.  A portion of those fishies will eventually need legal services and you want to be on the top of their fishy minds when they do.  In my own experience, I’ve taken a look around and seen various friends or acquaintances progressing in their jobs or starting their own businesses.  I’ve made it a priority of mine to portray myself to them as a capable, trustworthy, and cordial attorney who is able to assist them at a moment’s notice.  Occasionally, these contacts come to me with legal matters which I happily take on.  Some of these contacts are small-time, but could one day become big and I am honored to be involved in their businesses from day one.  Otherwise, I know that there is just a matter of time before a portion of these contacts become big old toads themselves and then potentially become big old clients.

In other words, young contacts with potential now may become your best clients in the future… or one day you’re forming a small LLC for a widget designer, three years later, you’re representing a global widget cartel.  Talk about a small investment paying off!

In conclusion, you, law student/junior associate/guy just looking for fantasy football advice, can get a major head start on your legal career this very second that may even bear fruit in the short term.  Network with friends, family, acquaintances, and college alumni.  Be friendly to people you meet on the street, attend charity events, introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you at the game.  The worst thing that can happen is you’ve reached out and they aren’t interested at the moment.  However, by NO means should you let your business get in the way of your friendships and relationships with the ones you love.  But that’s the subject of another blog post.

In upcoming posts I will touch on shepherding not-for-profit corporations through the federal tax exemption process, converting general partnerships to limited partnerships and the tax ramifications therein, and more associate life and practice pointers for law students and new attorneys.  If you actually are looking for fantasy football advice, I’m currently 6-0 and my tips don’t come cheap.

Tips for attorneys in transition that are selecting their next document review

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). Jill oversees the successful recruitment of attorneys, paralegals and contract legal professionals. Jill (and the Blackman team) staffs document reviews using qualified contract attorneys and thus, works with attorneys-in-transition daily. You can follow her at twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

There are dozens of agencies staffing document reviews in Chicago. Sometimes, multiple agencies offer you a project for the same dates – which one do you choose?  Below are some pointers to help you muddle through:

  1.  RATE:  For those folks who read me regularly, you know I have a soapbox on which I tout the rates gospel (See Irate about contract attorney rates: a rant). We’ve seen rates as low as $18/hr and as high as $35/hr for document review work (higher for foreign language and substantive work). If you are a new attorney looking for your first document review, honestly, take what you can get because the first one is always toughest to land. Once you land a document review, the others are easy to get and you can command higher rates. It is up to you to decide what you can afford.
  2. LOCATION:  If the project location is inconvenient to you, it is not going to be a great gig no matter what the project pays and the commute will cost you. Select a location that is easily accessible to you.
  3. FACILITY: Not all document review facilities are created equally. Decide what you can put up with. Reviewing in an overcrowded, moldy basement is not for everyone.
  4. HOURS: Some projects are capped at 40 hours, some have a more intense schedule that is mandatory. Some pay OT rates and some don’t. There are projects with set hours and projects that offer a flexible schedule. Find out what type of project you are being offered and decide what is right for you.
  5. DURATION:  A great rate and lots of OT for 2 weeks or a mediocre rate for 5 months? That decision is up to you.

Different agencies have different reputations and if all of the above circumstances work for you, it still may not be a fit if you’re working for the wrong agency. Do your homework about how agencies treat their contractors. Ask your colleagues or consult the many websites and blogs that offer reviews of the various staffing agencies. Below are some qualities that attorneys in transition should demand from the agencies that employ them:

  1. Honest and accurate depiction of a project’s duration. Sometimes cases settle or new search terms are negotiated resulting in fewer docs and as a result, the project understandably cuts short. But some agencies simply lie to encourage you to select a project.
  2. Consistent top-of-the-market pay rates.
  3. Some kind of bonus based on hours and/or other benefits.
  4. Comfortable work space.
  5. Friendly and accessible agency reps.

Happy reviewing!

Spontaneous Exclamations: Early priorities

 Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held.  He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, commercial finance, and non-profit law.  Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or  akatz@harrisonheld.com.

Part one. Part two runs tomorrow.

Greetings law blogosphere!  Whether you are a fresh energetic law student, young overloaded associate taking a quick breather, or senior-ist of the senior partners scouring the Internet for solid fantasy football advice, I congratulate you on finding my intangible soapbox and hope I can offer at least a little advice, insight, and maybe some chuckles.  Additionally, in future posts, I will be touching on current trends and provide practice tips in the tax and corporate arenas.  Your sincere/sarcastic/witty/coarse comments in my inbox are always appreciated.

This first one is for those of you in law school or college considering making “The Profession,” your profession.  No doubt, it’s not the easiest of periods in history to transform yourself from pastel popped-collar polo big person on campus to super rainmaking attorney extraordinaire, but here are a few pointers about networking to build your business and reputation— something that you can begin doing immediately that might not currently be on your mind.

1.         Network Like it’s Your Job

That’s because it IS your job.  As an attorney, you need to put food on the table so your brain can have enough energy to process the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of legalese you will confront every month.  How do you put food on the table and receive enough of these pages to keep you occupied for 2,000 plus hours a year?  By bringing in a client or two… or preferably a baker’s dozen.  One of the best ways to acquire new clients in any practice area is through networking.

2.         Get Your Priorities Straight

I’ve heard it before.  Senior attorneys declaring that junior attorneys should not make business development and networking their fifth, sixth, or even 20th priority.  To an extent, I agree.  Building your book of business should not be your top priority as a new or junior attorney.  First and foremost, your priority is to learn how to practice your area of law and that requires significant blood, sweat, and tears.

However, I contend that networking should be a close second priority and it should begin prior to the first day of law school.  Successful attorneys with giant books of business generally built their practice on meeting people and portraying their name and/or firms to the public in a reputable and trustworthy light.  Most of these attorneys did not make partner and find a lucrative client book suddenly materialize out of the void.  They pounded the pavement from day one.  If you gas up the sledgehammer and starting pounding, on day 2,190, you may wake up and may realize, “Wow! I have enough of my own clients to provide me with enough work that I don’t need to seek assignments from other attorneys. I and my book have become a valuable asset to my firm.  Now, I can control my own destiny as an attorney.”

And controlling your own destiny is considered by many to be the pinnacle— because while handouts of projects can be great for your career, eventually all handout pools dry up.

Steve Jobs: “Don’t lose faith … don’t settle”

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

Perhaps you’ve heard the replays of the speech Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs, now deceased, gave to Stanford University’s commencement class of 2005.  He stated:

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

While this speech was written and given before the recession of 2008, his words have meaning for those still finding their professional footing and following their intended path.

Jobs implored the graduates, “You’ve got to find what you love … keep looking until you find it.”

His pre-2008 words, you may say, don’t apply to post-2008 times. You may be partially correct. For attorneys with this mindset, that they should land somewhere, anywhere, I might offer some additional thoughts.

First, it’s not such a bad idea to view your career development in stages. For example, if you want to practice real estate law, a practice area that surely is not practical right now, it may be possible for you to accept a position in litigation where you might be able to litigate real estate matters. If you work with a general practitioner, it may be entirely possible that some real estate matters may surface in due time.

I call this “making your own luck.” These situations do not simply fall in your lap; you can make them happen.

Second, while you are practicing litigation, it should be entirely possible for you to attend bar association meetings of real estate groups. This way, you are educating yourself and meeting practitioners who do what you want to do. You may meet real estate lawyers who have conflicts in real estate matters and want to pass clients on to you. In this way, you can get four for the price of one: you become educated in an area of law you enjoy; you get hooked up with lawyers who practice in that area; you may get your own real estate business; and perhaps, you may get the opportunity to recharge a practice area in your firm or create a new one.

Again, making your own luck while finding and doing what you love.

In this same way, while practicing litigation, you may want to accept a matter pro bono under the auspices of a Chicago legal services organization. Most nonprofit legal service providers also offer training and malpractice coverage for new attorneys. In addition, most will set up mentoring relationships with more senior attorneys. You receive tremendous benefit again, experience, training, mentorship – making your own luck.

Overall, it is helpful to view your career goals in terms of chapters in your life. If you talk to practicing attorneys, most have not stayed at the same firm or company from day one. The majority have practiced law in many capacities and worked in law-related fields over time.

So listen to the words of Steve Jobs. Keep your eye on the ball, and don’t forget the reasons why you went to law school. You can have what you want. You can remain true to yourself. It may not be next week. Despite the critics, think like Steve Jobs. Like the creation of desktop computers, the iPad or the iPhone, finding what you love sure can be possible.