THE IMPORTANCE OF PROMPT COMMUNICATIONS WITH LAW FIRMS

As I explained in an earlier essay, what is true with respect to individuals in dating is also true with respect to law firms considering lateral candidates – they want to be wanted.  If you don’t show much interest, energy or enthusiasm with respect to a potential mate, chances are he/she will develop little interest in you.  It is the same with law firms.  Law firms, like every other employer, want people who are not only excited and energized by their career, but who are also excited and energized by the interviewing firm itself. (See prior essay).

This fundamental point is related to another very important lesson with regard to how lateral attorney candidates (and their respective recruiters) should communicate with law firms during the interview/recruiting process.  Busy lawyers are often swamped with emails and phone voicemails.  Sometimes they have more than they can possibly answer in a timely manner.  So naturally, they prioritize.  Many lawyers will thus respond to clients and senior partners right away, while putting most other less critical emails and messages on the back burner until they can get around to them.  But what may work for lawyers in their everyday practice does not necessarily work when a lawyer is in serious discussions with another firm.  I have seen how lawyers all too often treat communications with an interviewing firm, as well as related communications from their recruiters, as “non-critical” and therefore shoved to the back burner.  Regardless of whether the lawyers are doing this out of habit and/or because they are not taking their job search as seriously as they should, this is a major mistake.

The reality is that – for the reasons stated above – law firms expect to have “top tier” or “critical level” priority when it comes to lawyers returning their communications.  In other words, law firms want to be treated like clients or senior partners, so that their communications to interviewing lawyers (or their recruiters) will be promptly returned, ideally by the next day (if not the same day).  Consequently, I have seen law firms become clearly irritated when an interviewing attorney has failed to promptly respond to an email or voicemail from the firm.  When this happens, the firm usually assumes that the reason for the delay in responding is due to the attorney’s lack of interest or enthusiasm in the law firm.  This assumption – whether accurate or not – can seriously damage the attorney’s chances to obtain an offer.  In one particular case, I witnessed a law firm withdraw an offer because the partner candidate failed to timely respond to the firm’s emailed offer and also to a voicemail from one of the firm’s partners (both the partner and the firm also failed to timely inform me of either of these communications – if one of them had done so (as they should have), the miscommunications would have most likely been avoided).  Again, this happened because the firm assumed the partner no longer had any interest.

For these reasons, I find myself having to constantly remind attorney candidates that they cannot afford to treat an interviewing firm’s communication as a low priority no matter how busy they are.  If the attorney does not consistently treat such communications as top priorities, they are likely to harm – or even ruin – their chances of obtaining an offer from that firm.

Seeking Excellence as a Lawyer Means Sometimes Taking a Break

It’s an old truism that happiness can’t be sought directly. Just as looking at the sun can only blind us, seeking only happiness will also distract us from our path. What a lawyer should be seeking in his career isn’t happiness, but excellence — to be the most effective, proficient, and powerful lawyer he can be. Seeking this, happiness comes naturally. Nevertheless, there comes a time in a law career where the weight of daily tasks and regular expectations become more tedious, where the dress attire weighs like wet clothes, and when it seems that “trying harder” at the job leaves us empty.

Clinically, we would call this “depression,” but that doesn’t mean you need a pill. Sometimes our “salvation” in a career, in a marriage, in a friendship, whatever, comes from outside it, and, in the case of being a lawyer, what this means is that the missing element of an effective law career may not even come from the law career.

To find that “missing part” that was lacking, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go on an extended vacation, least of you all you have to retreat to Tibet and speak with a Lama. Finding that missing element, the bit of motive power, may come from something subtle and humble, not necessarily something as grandiose as a religious conversion. It may come to you by trying a new position, or by simply taking to at night to reflect on the one you have. But having this small bit, this vision, this hope, the bit of self-understanding, is having, in fact, your soul, your motive: it will make an intense verve for excellence effective, an investment, rather than a bleeding out.

What this means, ultimately, is that to be excellent, to be the best you can be, you must sometimes give it a break, and take time to reflect and meditate. Assess your overall strategy. Having spent the time to find your purpose, you will be invigorated to go back to the game with purpose.

New Job in the New Year? Here’s Why You Should Start Your Search Now

Ever feel like after Halloween, there is a race until the end of the year? You’re not alone. Christmas decorations go up in most stores BEFORE Halloween. We all brace for the holiday season and it’s easy to coast by until the end of the year and hold your job search until January.However, if you are seriously contemplating a new position in the new year, now is actually the optimal time to start your search.

Many attorneys fear starting the process in November because they feel that if they get called in to interview, proceed with the interview process, and are offered a position, they will have to start prior to the new year and lose their promised bonus from their current law firm.I would say about 95% of the time, this isn’t the case.Here’s why:

Many do not realize this until they go through it, but the recruiting process can be quite slow. Generally, even for the most qualified of attorneys, the process takes about two months. Particularly through the holiday season, it can be difficult to get everyone in the same room for a meeting or an interview. Two months solidly puts a start date after January 1.

Unless there is an absolute immediate need, if you receive an offer from a firm in November or December, the firm will not expect you to start until after the first of the year.Even if they would prefer an earlier date, it would certainly be reasonable to negotiate this point. Firms would much rather hire the “right” person for the job then the “wrong” person just because the latter could start two weeks earlier.

If, under the rare circumstance, that the firm absolutely needs someone before the end of the year, they are likely to offer a signing bonus to make up for the potential bonus that you would lose with your current firm.

There is an overall desire to have new attorneys in place before January first. The end of the year is as much of a mental “deadline” or mark for recruiting and hiring partners as it is for you.While it might be more comfortable for you to delay your search until January, it is also the goal for recruiting teams to have an offer out and accepted prior to the end of the year.This way, they can start off the new year with their team complete and without anything hanging over them. This is why there is such a tremendous push for interviews the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You may find that if you wait, many of the positions that you found interesting will have already been filled. Of course, there is always a new hiring season. But, wouldn’t it be nice for you to go through your holidays with a new position already in place? Then you would have a fresh start to your new year.

Passively Searching: Looking For Your Dream Job Before You Need It

Although it may seem counterintuitive the best time to look for a job may be when you are happiest in your current position. This is because when you are successful and happy, you’re also at your most marketable. I have had many experiences in my career where associates wait until they have been let go to begin their job search, and when this happens, their marketability has already declined.

Associates who are doing well at their firm are highly desirable to a potential new employer. These associates may not want to search for something better. Consider, however, whether you might get even more of what you need in a new position.  Has your firm been promoting associates to partnership to your satisfaction? Have there been mergers, layoffs, or departures of groups that may change your day-to-day existence? Has the firm been grooming you to eventually become an equity partner? Would you like to simplify your lifestyle, perhaps travel more, work less, start a family? Has the nature of your work changed because of a change in clients? Any of these is reason enough to conduct a “passive” search, and a recruiter may be able to help.

A passive search is one in which you survey all options, and apply only for positions that appear to be a step up from your current position. I work with several passive searchers.  They decline to apply for many of the opportunities I present to them, but when a promising opportunity comes along, I make sure they are in the loop.  They are in a fantastic position because they have tremendous leverage.  The choice is largely theirs whether they change positions or not.  They are not afraid to negotiate favorable terms with a potential new employer, because, after all, they already have a job that is giving them much of what they want.  They can take their time and do all their due diligence, and if they get an offer, the decision is theirs whether or not to accept.

Employers want to be wanted; they prefer a candidate who can pick and choose, and who actively chooses to work for them after considering other options.  They want their employees to be happy working there, and not leave.   If they are interested in a candidate who obviously can take her time and wait for the right opportunity, they may be creative in giving that person what she needs in order to bring her aboard.  For these reasons, it is an excellent idea to conduct a passive search.  You may end up finding your dream job.

Using Connections

During the application process, you are bound to come across people with whom you have crossed paths in the past who are now associates or partners at your target firm.  What is the best way to use these connections to increase your chances of getting an interview?  The answer is simple: it depends.

 

It depends on who the connection is.

 

Who is the person you want to use as a connection within the firm to which you are applying?  Is the person an attorney who is in the group to which you are applying? Is she a partner in that group? An associate?  The position of the person will help determine when to use that connection.

 

If the connection is a partner who may influence whether you get interview and/or hired, you may want to contact that person shortly after your resume has been sent to the firm by your recruiter.  Often, recruiting coordinators (who are sometimes non-lawyers) serve as gatekeepers within a law firm, and determine whether your resume gets seen at all by the relevant attorneys.  Therefore, it may be in your interest to let that person know soon after your resume has been sent that it has been submitted.  That way, you increase your chances of the resume being sent on to the group by the recruiting coordinator.   Even if the connection is a partner in another group, who may not be someone who has any say in whether you get an interview or an offer, it may not hurt to let that person know your resume has been sent.  She probably knows a partner in the group who has the power to make sure it is seen.

 

Even an associate can help your cause from the outset, but the key factor is making sure that the associate is well-regarded by the firm.  Unlike partners, being an associate does not guarantee that the person is doing well.  Partners have been invited to join an elite and private club in a very real  way; associates are still proving themselves with the hope of being invited, so you really never know whether a recommendation from an associate will be a help to you or not.   As a general rule of thumb, if the associate is fairly senior, or has been with the firm more than 3-4 years, she is probably doing pretty well there, and you have a reasonable chance of a connection helping, rather than hurting you.  This is especially true if she is in the group to which you are applying.  If she is in another group, there is a smaller chance that she will have a relationship to the partners who will make decisions with regard to your candidacy, but you can always ask.  The last thing you want to do is attach yourself to an associate who is on the way out the door.

 

It depends upon what the connection is.

 

What is this person’s connection to you?  Is the relationship a professional one? A personal  one? Is this person someone you knew in law school?  Is the person only an acquaintance? The most important factor in all of the above, which I can’t stress enough, is whether you can count on this person saying nice things about you.

 

The best connection, of course, is someone who has worked with you and can vouch for your work product and work ethic.   Again, if you have such a connection at a firm to which you have applied, I highly recommend that you reach out to that person early on in the process to let her know that you have applied to her firm.  If you are not 100% sure that she will say wonderful things about you, call her up or ask to take her to coffee, and try to get a feel for how she feels about your candidacy there.  Tell her that you are very excited about the opportunity and think you would be a great fit, and ask if she would  mind discussing with the firm the projects you worked on with her.  Remind her what those projects were, and what your role was. Stress the projects where you distinguished yourself.   In any event, you do need to contact that person if she is in the group that will be considering your candidacy, since your prior relationship to her will probably come to light at some point, and they will ask her about you.  You want to make sure that you are shaping that conversation by speaking to her first.

 

Even a purely personal relationship can be very helpful.  If someone can say that they have known you for many years on a personal level, and can vouch for your character, as it were, this can go a long way, especially in smaller firms. Many firms place a high value on personality fit.  This can be especially helpful at the end of the process.

 

Many attorneys I have worked with, especially associates, make the mistake of dropping names  of acquaintances during an interview without permission. I do not recommend this.  If you have an acquaintance or former law school classmate who is at the firm to which you applied, you should shoot that person an email and let them know you will be interviewing there.  Do not be the person who avoids contacting your acquaintance because you feel awkward doing it, only to drop that person’s name without her permission.  Most people do not appreciate this.

 

It depends upon where in the interview process you are.

 

As discussed above, many connections are best used at the beginning of the process, after the resume has been sent by your recruiter.  However, an associate in an unrelated group may actually help you more at the end of the process, or after you already have secured an interview.  This is because an Associate in an unrelated group amounts essentially to a personal recommendation, since they will probably have little to say about the substance of your work.

 

In sum, think about the type and closeness of the relationship you have, and be sure to contact your connection before you offer up her name during an interview.  Always, always do everything you can to ensure a positive review of you before you mention the connection to anyone.

Political Ad Slams Candidate for Once Being a Lawyer

Certainly politics involves a whole lot of mudslinging — we expect all sorts of slams and accusations against the characters of both sides of a battle. Yet some deep-felt prejudices can be revealed. Attorney General Charlie Condon has cried foul about the ad attacking the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee who was slammed for being a former defense lawyer.

The ad was promoted by the Republican Governors Association criticizing Vincent Sheheen.

“I really think that ad is beneath the dignity of Governor Haley herself and her campaign,” said Condon, in an interview with the Huffington Post. “I know it’s an RGA ad, and I suppose she might say, ‘They’re running it and I’m not.’ But she could certainly, since it’s for her benefit obviously, call for them to take it down.”

What the ad amounts to is criticizing Sheheen because he “made money off criminals….Vincent Sheheen protects criminals, not us.” Some of the crimes of his clients are also detailed.

“If you step back from it all and think about what the basis of the ad is, the basis of the ad is that a person accused of a crime, whoever represents them is somehow unfit for public office or unfit to be governor. I suspect what happened is they saw an opening here, they did polling, it got traction. But you would expect a leader to not go for the short-term gain that maybe somebody is trying to talk her into.”

The ad of course banks in on some of the popular prejudice against lawyers for doing exactly what they are supposed to do, give both sides a fair trial. It reveals the modern prejudice, but makes little sense in a serious talk of what Sheheen is capable of as a governor.

Matt Moore, part of the South Carolina Republican Party, said that Graham didn’t have “anything to do with this,” and further claimed that the governor’s association was “not denigrating all lawyers,” with this ad — though it is hard to see how such an inference is avoidable.

Downturn in IP Litigation Sector Hiring

As legal recruiters, it is our job to keep up with, and ideally stay ahead of, the trends in the legal market as they relate to demand for hiring in various regions and practice areas.  One trend we had noticed on an anecdotal basis over the past couple months has been a significant downturn in lateral patent litigation hiring.

In the two years prior, patent litigation and prosecution had both been incredibly strong sectors for lateral movement and law firm demand, with new openings coming online on a weekly, if not daily basis across almost all regions of the country (particularly in the areas of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).  Demand for patent prosecutors continues apace, but what was driving the decline in hiring for patent litigation?

Sometimes you do not get an answer to these questions, you just notice the trends and have to make an educated guess, but in this instance, we can point to a very specific development, namely a recent study published by Unified Patents, an entity whose business is based on fighting allegedly frivolous patent suits.  The study found that there had been a 23% reduction in patent suits between the second and third quarters of this year.  This follows on the heels of data from legal analytics firm Lex Machina, who found a 40% year-on-year decrease in patent suits from September 2013 to September 2014.

Both entities largely attribute the decline to the recent Supreme Court Alice v. CLS decision (which severely weakened the protection for software or business method patents), and the America Invents Act, which shifted the patent regime from First-to-Invent to First-Inventor-To-File.

This is one specific case example of a new decision or law causing a decrease in demand for legal services in a particular sector, and there are of course similar cases where a new law or court decision will increase legal activity (and thus demand for attorneys) in another practice sector (the uptick in demand for healthcare attorneys in the wake of the Affordable Care Act comes to mind).

While it is important for us legal recruiters to keep track of these developments to gauge demand and get ahead of the recruiting curve for various sectors and legal markets, it is equally important for you as a practicing attorney to take note of trends in the legal sector, and to plan your career moves and decisions about your practice focus accordingly.  If you have any questions about the state of the market or the ideal time for you to make your own lateral move, you can always get in touch with one of us here at BCG.

As always, best of luck with your search!

Obtaining Outstanding References

A question that sometimes comes up with my attorney candidates is “what is the best way to get great references that will impress prospective law firms, as well as to avoid bad ones that will torpedo you candidacy?”  This is understandable, given that many attorneys lack experience in seeking references, much less in actually writing references or serving as a reference themselves.  Moreover, merely asking for a reference is awkward in itself.  Of course, the candidate does not want to give the person providing the reference the impression that they are trying to “tell them what to say.”  For these reasons, candidates are not comfortable with discussing the content of the reference with the person giving the reference, especially the important subjects of what a fantastic lawyer and person the candidate is and all the other glowing things that the candidate wants the person to say in their reference.  Consequently, most candidates just leave the content of their references entirely up to the persons giving them.  This is a major mistake.

A candidate should attempt to control everything about their candidacy that they possibly can.  This does not mean that candidates should go so far as to try to write or dictate their own references.  Such an attempt would usually not be taken well by the person providing the reference.  Nevertheless, it is both prudent and appropriate for the candidate to provide the person with at least some general guidance about the reference.  In fact, persons who are asked to do references often request that the candidate provide them with such general guidance.  Regardless of whether such guidance is specifically requested or not, however, the candidate should provide this general guidance in the form of all of the necessary information that will assist the person in acting as a reference.  This information includes all the projects the candidate worked on with the person and the specific attributes of the candidate that prospective law firms will want to know about (intelligence, legal skill, work ethic, personality/people skills, quality of work, reliability, ethics, no problems/weaknesses, etc.).  Candidates can even provide “samples” of prior written references (which have been fully “sanitized” of course).  These can be especially helpful to persons who have never provided references before.

In addition, the candidate should not hesitate to directly ask the person whether or not they are entirely comfortable in saying really great things about the candidate across the board.  This is because the candidate needs to learn as soon as possible if the person is merely lukewarm in their opinion of the candidate and/or is otherwise unwilling to provide the candidate with anything less than a full, ringing endorsement on virtually every subject.  Thus, if the person openly acknowledges that they are not willing or able (for whatever reason, good or bad) to give a rock solid reference, or if the candidate has other good reasons to suspect that the person is being less than candid about their lack of enthusiasm, then the candidate should politely and professionally inform the person that it would be better for everyone if they do not serve as a reference after all.  Then the candidate should immediately look for someone who is more likely to give a total “knockout” reference.  Candidates cannot afford to have negative or even just mediocre references in this highly competitive market.  For this reason, candidates should learn the strength of their references and maximize their effectiveness before they apply, not after.

Be Bold and Take a Move of Growth

In the legal profession, we might feel lucky to be where we are at. After all, so many would-be-lawyers are working as paralegals, if not pizza-men. Getting your JD might give you a shiver of trepidation nowadays: there is no promise you will make it in this profession. So you, as an established lawyer, may feel the best strategy is to hold to the familiar, to keep on the familiar track, and not take an unnecessary risks.

If you prefer comfort and will not risk the adventure of new jobs, new assignments, making the lateral move that will challenge you, you will not grow. Maturity is perpetual growing, perpetual improvement. We don’t quit growing until we die. And the brain keeps learning all our lives: the brain is plastic, and you can teach old dogs new tricks.

What matters is having the courage to keep challenging yourself, to throw yourself into situations and arenas where you could fail. Go ahead and fail: so what! Is failure so bad? Worse is it to have never tried in the first place.

If you are psyched out about the new position, if you are wondering, “can I really handle this? Will I just sink like a rock,” then be certain that this is the move you should make. Always do what you are afraid to do. Be confronting those fears, by doing what may even seem foolish or unlikely, we grow more bold and also surprise ourselves: we are stronger than we imagined. You never know how strong you are until you actually try your best, and take on challenges that are just a little too big for you, that require you to go back to the books, to educate yourself, to adjust your skills to meet the new demands.

At first, the old habits will resist and try to talk you out of it. They will quite reasonably remind you that you could greatly fail, you could lose so much. Old habits always have a reason to resist change. Nevermind them. Fan the flame of  the new habit, the new boldness, taking the job you think will make you sink. When you fan this small flame, when you feed it small successes, and give it more and more fuel, it will grow, and soon enough you will have built a boldness to try new and new challenges, to seek out adversity for the relish of the fight, for the sheer chance to expand and grow.

Of course you will fail along the way. Success is paved with countless failures. Use your failures as stepping stones. The stumbling block becomes a stepping stone. When you adjust your assessment of what failure means, what it says about you, when you realize that great people fail more precisely because they try harder and try new things, then you can relax and not be defeated when you lose, not give up when others laugh at you, or pity you. Hold to that inner spark, the inner voice that tells you to keep striving, to raise your head to face bolder challenges.

Take the new position, even if you think you might drown. Dare to seek the promotion, dare to ascend. This is the way to grow as a lawyer, this the way to grow as a human being, and though you might be afraid at first, you will be proud of yourself in the end.

When you force yourself to grow, force yourself into bold new situations, you will summon powers within you that you never suspected existed. You will realize you were more capable than you had suspected, you will have found that there is more to you as a lawyer, as a man or woman, than you previously believed.

 

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What You Really Need to Know Before Accepting An Offer

If you have received an offer- congratulations!  Maybe you are jubilant, maybe you are weighed down with reservations, maybe you are even thinking about turning it down.  In any event, there are some things you need to think about.

When offered a position, the first thing you should do is express your gratefulness to the offer.  Even if you are holding out for a better offer, even if the offer is not at all what you wanted, thank them graciously, and ask how much time you have to make a decision.  You want to avoid mentioning that you are waiting for an offer from a different firm, or are unhappy about their offer.  Simply say thank you, and tell them how much you appreciate their offer to you.  Then hang up the phone, and take some time to digest what has been offered to you, and how that stacks up with what you are willing to accept.

Some law firms will give you their first and last offer up front.  That is because some firms have lockstep salaries for associates and/or strict formulas for determining partner salaries.  If you are lucky enough to be working with a recruiter, they should be able to tell you what kind of a firm you are dealing with.

The next thing you need to do is determine whether you would take the offer as-is.  Again, if this is a firm that has made you a take-it-or-leave-it offer, this may be the end of the inquiry.  However, if you determine that the firm has some wiggle room, you need to decide whether you will ask for something more, and whether getting more will make or break the deal.

If you decide that you would like some extras but will do without them (moving expenses come to mind), I suggest asking (or having the recruiter ask on your behalf) for those extras while making clear that you are not rejecting their offer.  You might be surprised how often firms will throw in extras they have not offered, even when the candidate is willing to accept the offer without the extras.  This is a firm that wants to hire you, and they want you to be happy.  They will generally do what they can to see that that happens.  Therefore, do not be afraid to ask for extras if you want them, but make it clear that you very much want to accept their offer.

The harder scenario is when the offer is not at all what you had contemplated.  I have had many candidates tell me to simply turn down an offer because they didn’t like it.  This is almost never  the best course. Instead, if you are prepared to walk away, why not ask for what you want?  You don’t have anything to lose, and you may have something to gain.  Firms will often do what they can to attract you to the firm.  Things like moving expenses, better life and health insurance and health savings plans, a higher base salary or higher incentives or percentages for partners, a draw or salary guarantee for a limited period- these are all things that many firms expect you to negotiate.  Some firms even offer free or tax-deductible parking.  You need to ask yourself what is really important to you.

It is never a good idea to be combative, and negotiations are often delicate.  If you are working with a recruiter, your recruiter can and should conduct these negotiations on your behalf, after educating you about what options are available, and learning from you what you would like to ask for.  If you get enough of what you are asking for, you may just end up accepting an offer that you would have turned down flat.