Tag Archives: Careers

Attorneys working non-attorney jobs at the firm

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

There are attorneys who cannot find jobs, and they don’t want to work at the mall to make ends meet. There might be another spot in a law firm where you could hang your hat for a while. You are not going to earn as much income as a practicing lawyer but it will probably be better than folding shirts and jeans all day. While working as a support professional, you might apply for an associate position when the next one becomes available.

There are a variety of professional positions at midsize and larger law firms. More consumers are searching for professionals in a digital world, and many firms experience increased demands on marketing and communications departments. If you are a numbers person, you might find satisfying work in the billing and accounting department. Technology skills are also valuable to law firms, and when billing and profitability pair with technology, law firms need IT people. These are just a few of the professional capacities in which new lawyers can work in firms and keep a foot in the door.

I understand the hesitation to work at a law firm in a capacity other than attorney. Sure, there might be some who look down on the non-attorney “professionals,” but most lawyers are happy to go to work and build their career. If the alternative is not working in a law firm, wouldn’t you be better off around the industry on a daily basis? If you’re in the marketing department, for example, you might have cause to learn a few things about new practice areas. If your experience set is insurance defense, and now you’re writing ad copy for the trademark attorneys, you just might discover a new practice area you enjoy.

Don’t worry about “tarnishing” your resume with non-attorney work after graduation. Anyone in a hiring position understands the economy and job outlook over the past half-decade. Recruiters are more impressed by a candidate who continued working towards their goal instead of throwing in the towel when the perfect job didn’t materialize in a few months.

Back in the marketing department you keep hearing about a developing area of intellectual property that the attorneys continue promoting. You might want to let it be known that you find a particular area of law interesting and communicate that if a position opens up in their department, you would be interesting in practicing intellectual property law. Remember, there are many people who really don’t want to practice law and are quite happy working long-term in a professional position at a firm – so do not assume people know your career goals. At the same time, you might enjoy your alternative legal career and accepting this might put a smile on your face.

Calling all law clerks!

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

In a recent alumni board meeting, I heard a college mentioning a change in the patterns of students looking for law firm jobs. Apparently, there are plenty of applicants for associate positions. Fewer students, however, respond to law clerk opportunities.

The traditional employment route when I was in law school started with the first summer job at the end of the first year. Many of my friends applied for summer associate programs with larger firms. Some people enjoyed their summer associate experience and stayed on for a second year. If you do your job right as a clerk, you have the chance to stay working with the firm and can apply for an attorney position for after graduation.

Not only have large firms offered clerk positions. Students interested in clerking often overlook smaller firms. The benefits of clerking run to the small firms as well as to the students looking for the right fit. Law students should consider that smaller firms offer a unique experience.

A smaller law firm looking to expand might use a clerkship position to add new attorneys instead of hiring associates directly. Consider that associates often need to learn the nuances of a firm’s practice and niche in law. It makes more sense for a small firm to hire and groom a law clerk for the associate position. A law clerk to associate transition is more profitable for small firm partners.

The pressure is less when law students learning the ways of a firm before becoming more significant overhead. Likewise, the buy-in from the 2L might be easier than for a more experienced student or associate who is comparing law firms by short experiences – a treacherous thing if you only have snapshot experiences.

In 2012, even in a recovering economy, managing partners cannot afford to make poor hiring decisions and law student applicants have fewer opportunities to make an impression of commitment. Remember, once you look like a job hopper, employers might see you as impatient or finicky, not good.

Small law firm advice notwithstanding, the road to big firm starts early and if you want to work for a big firm, your focus should be big firm clerkships. You can always leave a big firm later, but going small to big is a tougher ladder to climb.

The art of professionalism – Four simple steps to help you transition from student to practitioner

Desiree Moore is the president and founder of Greenhorn Legal LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.

Law school is, by definition, a professional school.  Still, if you are like me, you spent much of law school lounging around in sweatpants and socializing with law school classmates (and studying, obviously!).  As you transition from law school into your legal practice, you will be expected to have mastered professionalism and to project professionalism in all instances.  More importantly, your ability to act in a professional manner early in your career will define you – and will define the impressions you leave on the people around you.

Whether you are interviewing for a legal position or you have begun your legal practice, here are four easy things you can do to ensure that you are perceived as a true professional:

1. Dress like a professional.  As simple as it may seem, your attire is an exceedingly important aspect of your professionalism.  This is the very first impression you make, before anything else.  For interviews, without exception, you must wear a suit.  Several days in advance of your interview, be sure your suit is clean and pressed (and that it fits you!).  Likewise, if your workplace observes a “business” dress code, or for any formal business occasions (for example, client meetings, court hearings, depositions, etc.), wear a suit.

If your office observes a “business casual” dress code, this calls for something slightly less formal than a suit.  Still, your attire should be traditional and conservative.  Flashy, quirky or otherwise inappropriate attire is never well received in a professional environment.  Also, wear your clothes well.  Avoid wrinkles and tuck in your shirt.

If you dress the part of a lawyer and a professional, you will make meaningful first impressions and build your credibility from day one.

2. Be mindful of your demeanor. Much like attire, mastering the proper demeanor in a professional environment will be central to your success.  In interviews and in your practice, take care to act in a formal, professional manner.  With this said, you also want to approach your office interactions in a relaxed, natural way.  Your demeanor should reflect that you are serious about your work but that you are also an open, friendly person.  If you can demonstrate by your demeanor that you are both of these things, your colleagues in the legal profession will respect you and want to get to know you.  Finally, as a new lawyer, you will be well served by expressing enthusiasm at the prospect of working on any case, deal or project that comes across your desk.  Enthusiastic lawyers are more pleasant to work with, and in turn get more work!

3. Hone your interpersonal skills. Finding success in a professional environment depends in large part on capitalizing on our own personal strengths and minimizing our weak areas.  In a legal environment, in particular, where you are expected to work closely with colleagues and clients, honing your interpersonal skills is a must.  While not everyone has the same interpersonal qualities, there are a few rules to live by.  In all instances, be reasonable and even.  Do not display extreme emotions and do not take frustrations out on anyone (this includes your administrative assistant – the best way to get in trouble as a new lawyer is to treat staff in a disrespectful manner).  Ask your colleagues about their work and their interests.  Steer clear of office gossip or any office dynamics that you are not comfortable with.  Keep your personal drama out of the workplace, too.

4. Master your practice. Finally, in an effort to demonstrate professionalism in a legal environment, it is important to master your legal practice.  Now, this is not something you can do right away, or all at once, but you should be working toward this every day.  As a recent law school graduate (and after having studied for the bar), your knowledge of the black letter law will never be better.  Capitalize on this and build on it.  Make yourself marketable (if interviewing) or indispensable (if you have already secured a job) in the early years of your practice by staying on top of the technical aspects of your job and showing growth from month to month and year to year.

Follow these guidelines and – even if you have to work at it at first – you will project professionalism to your peers and superiors.  Over time, it will become second nature.  (And don’t worry – those sweatpants can get plenty of use on the weekends.)

Facebook timelining and your best employment interests

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick is experienced in law, business, entertainment, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice™ agency model. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition.

Facebook’s new timeline feature offers some nice benefits but raises alerts for attorneys in flux in their careers. You might have a great job today but we all know the economy is still in recovery and this is an election year. If you end up polishing your shoes and putting your best foot forward, make sure your timeline represents your best employment interests.

The new timeline feature allows us to scroll back in time to share and learn about the people in our social networks. I think that the glimpse into someone’s past is a humanizing experience. A general rule of thumb: If you have to explain it you should, and if you make vague statements, other people will assume meaning based on their own schema.

Allow me to make a few assumptions. One third of Facebook users build their timeline to create a permanent record and electronic scrapbook. A second third of Facebook users are sure that everything shared on others’ timelines was a published for them, personally. The last third of users appreciate the reasonable expectation of formality and privacy on Facebook timelines.

There are new cases being argued about Facebook privacy. In a recent article I read about the perils of divorcing and having your timeline reproduced in discovery. I imagine there are decision makers operating in business with a wide range of social media experience. I think Facebook users intend on sharing information with others freely and comfortably; LinkedIn users appear to be more cautious about what’s shared on their “professional” profile. Some people incorporate their Twitter and Facebook into LinkedIn and there is no bright line test or standard.

There isn’t a certification page or box to click and swear your Facebook comments are true and correct on information and belief, so on and so forth. Most intelligent and socially adept social media users know to take Facebook with a grain of salt where the author’s intent seems obvious. Business users share content and comments with sincere business intent, and are likely to be viewed as more reliable.

While the laws on Facebook and admissibility develop, so do the expectations of accuracy by potential employers. Follow a few guidelines and you should be in good shape: (1) don’t lie; (2) be consistent; (3) qualify and disclaim if it seems relevant; (4) assume a variety of opinion among your “friends” on politics and religion; and (5) review and clean up your timeline to prevent unpleasant explanation.

The benefits of practice areas you don’t like

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick is experienced in law, business, entertainment, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice™ agency model. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition.

Attorneys in transition are lucky to have the opportunity to learn what they don’t like so they have a better chance of enjoying law practice long-term. I remember first-year law professors advising us to try on many hats before picking the one that fit best.

I remember doing work at an insurance defense firm, early in law school. Later, I had the chance to work on the other side and learn how to litigate a plaintiff’s case. I think I learned more about insurance companies than I learned about evidence and trial practice. The long-term take away is knowledge.

First – at the defense firm – I sat at my desk for days on end, paging through deposition transcripts (low-tech late 90s) and hunting for pre-existing conditions, statutory violations or any other cognizable reason to stick the plaintiff with contributory negligence. I was encouraged to use any and all available resources to give my supervising attorney the support for our pleadings.

Second – at the plaintiffs’ firm – I sat in trial at the counsel table, watching a video-taped deposition of the physician expert, testifying as to soft tissue injuries. While waiting in recess after the close of the evidence, our expert, provided by the insurance company, explained how the computers and algorithms limited the discretion of claims adjusters and even the lawyers in settling cases.

Looking back I realize that the insurance defense firm was getting paid for every hour they spent and every resource I used. On the other hand, the plaintiffs’ firm lost big time when the verdict came back for specials but no pain and suffering – this meant no money for our injured plaintiff’s lawyer who spent countless hours and staff resources on a case that returned, what I was told, was an inconsistent verdict.

My experience in personal injury and defense taught me that the denial of claims on insurance policies and benefits generally is big business. At times it seems you need an act of God or Harry Potter to get these companies to pay. Who wants to do this for a living? Not me.

Prior to and after injury law, my main practice area was family law and domestic relations – the hourly billing suburban cash cow. Its great to be a paid gunman when the clients can afford it, and I submit that domestic litigation is good for the economy when the lawyers keep buying new cars and suits. The other side of the coin is the damage to the family, community and society generally.

Today, practicing public relations, I do more work in intellectual property, corporate and finance. Whenever these areas challenge me, I quickly remind myself of the alternatives. I urge you to try on many hats before picking the one that fit best.

Career Focus 2012: Tips on planning for success in your legal career

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick is experienced in law, business, entertainment, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice™ agency model. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition.

Many people say the best thing about the end of the year is a fresh start in the next. I saw an article today about New Year’s resolutions and how they often fail. There are a few habits you can adopt to help you reach your goals in 2012.

Making lists helps me learn and remember information. I like my lists because they help me see workflow in a mosaic representation. Why do we work so hard? We have lists of things to do. Even if making lists for your lists sounds funny, continue to organize your tasks and visualize your progress.

Reviewing event calendars helps me pre-identify events I don’t want to miss. All good networkers plan their next year during December. Don’t worry if you didn’t follow suit; take the first week in January to identify and plan to attend strategic events that enhance your brand and presence in your community.

Setting SMART goals helps me reach more goals. I will share more soon about SMARTER goals. As it is, the SMART theme focuses on specific, measurable, and the goals you can evaluate to better determine whether your action items move your closer to achieving your goals.

Marketing plans work when they are easy to manage. “Make a plan, work the plan” works when your plan goals are feasible. Time is money and we need to carefully spend our billable time. Allow yourself an hour every day for PR marketing. This will prove, over time, to be a best use of your resources.

Rewarding myself for achieving goals motivates me to keep promises to myself. Setting quarterly goals is a good idea because you can evaluate PR marketing efforts in three-month intervals. Share your ideas, events and content on a monthly basis so the people in your network know your practice and can send referrals.

Overcoming fear of rejection

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick is experienced in law, business, entertainment, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice™ agency model. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition.

Something about law school changes our attitudes as we turn into lawyers. We often maintain a need to take a position and zealously defend it, regardless of its weight. This can cause us to work extra hard to avoid losing. We can learn how to take calculated risks and accept “no” without imputing failure; the lawyer might otherwise avoid potentially losing positions and might miss a great opportunity.

There are a few confidence situations where we need to remember to bring our “A” game:

Job Hunting – you can’t say the wrong thing if you’re honest.
Do you really want to work somewhere you have to lie about your values or belief systems? Why would you agree or disagree with an interviewer just to get a job? Smart lawyers recognize pandering and it serves no one well. If the job is not a match, keep hunting. It is OK not to fit with everyone.

Networking – if you are a friend first you make an easier referral.
People do business with others they know, like and trust. Spend time getting to know people at networking events as friends first. Likeable people are more likely to receive follow up phone calls. Balance your time in networking conversations between what you do and who you are and vice versa.

Volunteering – even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you still win.
Don’t shy away from volunteer and pro bono opportunities simply because you don’t have a mastery of the subject matter. If organizers expected perfection they would have hired experts. Volunteer experience also allows us to break away from our daily roles, which creates a good environment to meet others and get to know them in a neutral atmosphere.

Collaboration – none of us knows everything so roundtable your issues.
The smartest person is often the one who asks the most questions. The best lawyers know the limits of their knowledge and experience. We all benefit from floating ideas around and hearing some fresh input. By including others and seeking collective intelligence you will always come out on top.

Personality – help people remember you among the competition.
You don’t have to be dry, even despite your practice area. Some of the most dynamic attorneys work in otherwise stale practice areas. The dynamic person makes their work seem interesting. People with passion for their work get noticed. So much of life as a lawyer is a confidence game.

The future’s so bright, you have to wear shades

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick is experienced in law, business, entertainment, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice™ agency model. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition.

Last night I attended a bar association holiday party, and I am optimistic about the 2012 job outlook. I attend enough events and talk to enough people to be a reasonably accurate judge of the state of our legal market here in Chicago. I hear people talking about hiring again. I hear people discussing moving and expanding. I hear people who are very busy with new work.

There are a few possible explanations for an increase in law firm hiring. First, news outlets are reporting economic growth, and the law firms might be responding positively to good news. Second, firms hit hard by the rough economy could have restructured their financial and production systems to make room to rehire lost associates. Third, consumers of legal services are likely returning to spending as usual after adjusting their habits. My advice for 2012 is to forget about 2008-through 2011.

Nick’s school of business psychology recognizes that people don’t like to dwell on the negative and are quick to forget unpleasant conditions. Stop singing the blues and start polishing your interview shoes. During recovery times, most business like law firms pursue economic opportunities to recover from recent loss periods. If forward progress is a function of confidence, then reminders of fear are obstacles.

Look, everybody knows that times were bad, but they don’t need to be reminded of loss. If your resume has gaps, fill them with the development, pro bono or other positive activities and highlight your resiliency. There are several people out there who whine and complain about hitting the job market at the wrong time, missing the big opportunity or who are otherwise upset with economic factors beyond their control.

By always focusing on what is within your control, you have the best shot at keeping the positive attitude that hiring partners seek during recovery periods. If my indicators are correct, we should be past the toughest times. I wish us all the best in 2012.

The benefits of collaborative family practice

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

Many Chicagoland law students who live or work in the city and suburbs encounter family law opportunities. In DuPage County I launched my legal career working for some fine family law firms. The experience exposed me to some of the less than fine firms as well. Not all family law needs to involve screaming lawyers and clients and law suits over fees. I am happy to share the Collaborative Law Institute and collaborative family law with you.

5 reasons you should consider collaborative family practice:

1.       There is added value in staying out of court. In collaborative family law the parties hire lawyers but sign an agreement not to go to court. The team of professionals includes the lawyers, mental health experts and neutral finance professionals. When you help parties learn to work together toward the future instead how to prepare for battle, a favorable outcome is likely.

 2.       Lawyers can more effectively spend client retainers. When legal fees are not spent on court appearances, you can focus on research, advice and counsel. Too often representation of your client and children’s best interests take a back seat to trial practice. I say spend the billable time researching, drafting and negotiating a good settlement and parenting agreement.

3.       Reduced ARDC risks are good for insurance. Family law attorneys, especially the ones who sue clients for fees, get inquiry letters from the ARDC at a higher rate. If your practice is largely or wholly collaborative, I say you are less likely to encounter discipline and you should make an argument to your professional liability carrier to reduce your premiums accordingly.

4.       The Collaborative Law Institute offers educational opportunities. I know many fellows in the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois and have attended their events. The opportunity to learn savvy practices and meet other professionals is refreshing. I’ve attended many family law events and most attorneys spend their time telling war stories – which is good – meeting new people who can send referrals is better.

5.       Happy clients with met expectations are better referral sources. One of the elements of collaborative practice is a meeting of the minds regarding expectations at the outset of representation. You can meet your objective goals when you aren’t sideswiped by 201(K) letters, motions to compel, and custody depositions and hearings. The result: happier client who tells their friends about you and refer new clients.

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.