Know Your Coworkers Personally

There is a sense in the business world that success is like water: keep swimming or you drown. If you let yourself grow content that makes you lazy and complacent; you cease to be competitive and you get picked over when promotions are being handed out. Only if you keep the competitor’s edge and elbow your way to the front will you get noted. Not that you have to be aggressive, but you do need to be assertive, and that means being friendly, but not so friendly that you would sacrifice an opportunity to a friend who deserves it less.

Yes, all that is true, but nevertheless, one can love his job and love his team as well. You don’t  necessarily have to let anybody walk all over you, but try to stop competing for a minute, and truly to appreciate the team you have around you. Of course your coworkers are more than lawyers and paralegals. They are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. They have hobbies, the have interests. They probably have political, religious, and philosophical identifications as well. Above all, they are individuals. Taking the time in your advancement as a lawyer to appreciate these other qualities in your coworkers won’t distract you from their business self. Far from it. It will help you appreciate their quirks all the more, anticipate how and why they make their business decisions, figure out what ultimate makes them tick.

So let yourself professionally love your coworkers. I mean respect them for who they are, and all they are, as persons who have a life that is outside the job, but that colors and characterizes how they work as lawyers.

By knowing people personally and caring for all they are, not just their professional self, you will have made a human connection, a connection that relates intimately with the business world as well. Open up your heart a little. Professionals do this. They care. There is nothing shrewd or ruthless in mixing love and business: keeping in touch with the human element the only way to keep excited about the job.

It’s Not All About What You Say

Between being an attorney on the recruiting committee of my former law firm and my career as a legal recruiter, I have interviewed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in my lifetime.  Keep in mind that there is much, much more to an interview than questions and answers.  This is not article about what to say during an interview.  It is an article about how to say it, and how to present yourself well without saying a word.

  1. Carriage.  This can’t be said enough: first impressions can make or break the interview.  That moment when you walk in the door, if you fail to make a good impression, you may just sink the interview.  So, how does one achieve this?

Make eye contact.  If you avoid eye contact with your interviewer, not only might you give the impression that you have something to hide, you also appear fearful.  If your interviewer perceives you as afraid of her, she instantly demotes you to an inferior position in her own mind, making you unworthy of her confidence, and, ultimately, the position you seek.  Making eye contact inspires confidence in you, and also creates an instant bond between you and your interviewer.   Shake hands, smile, and use your interviewer’s name.  These things also create an instant bond within the first five seconds.  If you end up with a less-than-outgoing interviewer, you will know it in the first few minutes.  You can always back off and maintain distance after the initial handshake, but you can’t make up for a lack of forthrightness if it is expected.  Obviously, using the interviewer’s name a few times not only lets them know that you know who they are and value their time.  But there’s more: at the end of the interview especially, saying, “it was great to meet you, Mark,” will jog Mark’s memory as to your name.  If he can’t remember, you can bet he will peek at your resume the moment you walk out the door, and that’s a good thing.

  1. Authority and Directness.

During the interview itself, remember what your mom told you:  Don’t stutter.  Sit up straight. Speak clearly.  When asked a question, take a breath, pause, and think about your answer before you slowly begin to speak.  And when you do speak, remember to make eye contact with the person you are speaking with.  This conveys seriousness and sincerity, and your answer will appear more genuine.  Running off at the mouth will often get you into trouble, so remember that it is far better to say less and say it with authority.

  1. Enthusiasm for Your Practice.

When I conduct mock interviews and counseling, attorneys often cringe at the suggestion that they get excited about their practice.  No one is asking you to change your personality or act like a chirpy gameshow host.  But your enthusiasm for your area of practice needs to be apparent.  This is your career- and no one wants to hire someone who is in the wrong the career.  Interviewers constantly ask stock questions like, “what has your favorite project been at your current firm?”  or “what do you like most about your area of practice?”  They are asking this for a reason: they are trying to get a feel for what you like, and how that fits with what they do.  But they also want you to be happy at their firm.  Show them that you truly like what you do, and could also like what they do.  Again, I’m not telling you what you should say here; but the way you talk about these topics is very important.  No matter what you say substantively, let them see your enthusiasm for the practice of law and for your area of law.

  1. Confidence in Yourself.

All of the above skills will help you convey what really matters: the fact that you can do this job.  An interview is not the time for modesty- it is the time to make them want to hire you.  For some reason, from the time we are law students, we are taught that interviewers are out to sabotage us- that they are looking to trip us up with trick questions and doublespeak.  Not true!  When you walk in to an interview, the people meeting want to meet you, and are thinking about hiring you and working with you for many years.  You’ve already made the initial cut, they’ve decided you’re a credible candidate, and now it is up to you to let them know that you have the right skills and are a dependable associate.  They are waiting for you to tell them what you can do, so tell them!   For example, when an interviewer asks you what your greatest asset is, don’t hold back!  List several!  You can always phrase it in terms of what someone else said about you so it seems less like you’re tooting your own horn.  When an interviewer asks you what your supervisors would say about you, discuss all the positive feedback you’ve gotten from them.  Pick out the highlights and talk yourself up! No one is going to do this for you, so tell them that other people have said you’re smart, competent, and dependable.  Don’t make the mistake of failing to let them know why you are the one they want to hire.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BUSINESS PLANS

As noted in my prior articles, possessing sufficient portable business is crucial for success in the law firm market for both partner and senior associate candidates.  For background, see for example my prior articles on “Calculating Portable Business” and “Alternative Portable Business.”   Law firms typically require between $300K to $3M+ in portable business for a partner level position, depending on the size and financials of the firm.  The usual (and most effective) way that a candidate presents their portable business to a prospective law firm is through some type of business plan.  The format of such plans varies greatly, and there is no single “right” way to do them.  However, there are some general guidelines that should be followed in order to make the business plans clearer and more persuasive.

Business plans are not just limited to the interview process.  Savvy partners (and associates) prepare business plans every year to outline their past business generations and plans for future business development.  The types of business plans used in the interview process have the same general purpose.  However, their structure differs from “regular” business plans because they are also intended to persuade a prospective law firm that the attorney not only has generated a certain amount of business, but also that the business is portable to the new firm.

The plan typically starts by describing all of the attorney’s business generations over a recent period – usually 3-5 years – as well as descriptions of their active clients and other general financial information (billing rates, hours billed, etc.).  The plan then estimates how much of that business is likely portable to the prospective firm.  The more detail of the reasons why each client and their business is likely portable, the better.  Example of persuasive detail includes the nature and duration of the key relationships that have been cultivated by the attorney at each client; how well the attorney controls each client’s business compared to other partners in their firm; how strongly the attorney’s firm is likely to compete for each client and other reasons (such as lower rates or type of platform) why certain clients are more likely to prefer the prospective new firm over the current one.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to persuade the prospective firm that the attorney’s portability estimates are accurate.

In preparing the plan, the attorney should not be limited to the “traditional” type of portable business from present clients.  It should also have a section describing prospective clients, as well as estimates on how much additional “alternative” or prospective portable business these clients may bring to the new firm.  Business is just as legitimate if it comes from a present client or a future one.  Nevertheless, the distinction between the two types of clients and portable business should be made clear.

Finally, the business plan should present an estimate of the total amount of portable business from all sources that is likely to come with the attorney over the next year should they join the new firm.  By presenting this total estimate in the context of a detailed business plan, it will be much more persuasive to a prospective firm than if the estimate is simply provided by itself without any explanation or support.

The View From The Top

Pretend for a moment that you are a hiring partner at a firm, and you are looking through a stack of resumes from applicants for a mid-level corporate associate position you need to fill because, fortunately for you, business is booming in your corporate practice and you know that you can better serve your clients and make more money by bringing on another associate to the group.

You make the first cut and pick a couple resumes of candidates who have good credentials in terms of law school and grades, and who have done good high-level work at large or sophisticated mid-sized firms.  Now it’s time for the interviews.  What do you look for during the interview process?  What do you want to hear in terms of answers?

Thinking about your own interview in this way is an extremely helpful exercise.  If you are hiring because you need someone capable of assisting the partners in your practice group, servicing your current and future clients, and contributing to the future growth of your firm, you want to hear the candidate explain in detail how they will accomplish all of those things.  You want the candidate to be familiar with your practice group and clients, and to have a vision for how their background, skill set, and career goals will best mesh with that dynamic.  You want a candidate who expresses enthusiasm for your firm, and for the opportunity to contribute to the firm’s bottom line in terms of performing current work and bringing in future work.

You do not want a candidate to explain why their prior firm was not super great, so they are now looking for the next best thing.  You do not want to hear that a candidate is looking to move to the city in which your office resides for “lifestyle” reasons, unless that is relevant to the question of a candidate’s long-term plans and the likelihood they will stick around for more than just a few years to grab a couple paychecks.

Kennedy implored the American people to ask not what the country could do for them, but what they could do for their country.  If you are a hiring partner at a firm, you are going to want your candidates to have a similar mindset towards your firm.  As an applicant, you are asking the firm to incur the time, effort, and expense of hiring you and integrating you into their practice, over all other potential candidates for the position.  You need to sell yourself and your value, and the best way to do that is to think hard about how you can contribute to the firm.  I guarantee this approach will increase your chances of success in an interview tenfold.

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.

How Much is a Lawyer Allowed to Snoop on a Juror’s Facebook?

For years now different bars and judges have waffled over just how far lawyers can go with online researching of potential jurors: are they allowed to read Facebook pages? Twitter? LinkedIn pages? Some lawyers have searched wholeheartedly, making the most of the new social landscape the internet has carved out, learning what they could through online inquiries. Others wouldn’t let themselves look, wondering if such practices amounted to an invasion of privacy. The ABA settled the matter in April of 2014, after two years of deliberation, concluding that researching Facebook posts, Twitter posts, and similar information which is publicly available constitutes ethical research.

With such a go-ahead, more lawyers are making Facebook checks than ever before. There are limits: lawyers have been warned not to “friend” or “follow” potential jurors, as that would be an invasion of privacy.

“It’s like any other publicly available information,” said Donald Lundberg, who aided in drafting the ABA’s opinion, and as reported by the Associated Press.

Giving the go ahead on viewing such media as Facebook, as well as Twitter, and even LinkedIn, contradicting the New York City Bar Association’s opinion of 2010, opens up avenues for screening jurors, but also for getting a sense on whether jurors are doing their job legitimately. After all, since the advent of this social media, many jurors have been reprimanded for discussing cases, if not denounced for causing a full-fledged mistrial, for leaking information or otherwise commenting inappropriately on cases via Facebook updates.

For instance, Khalid Sheikh, a lawyer from Detroit, checked up on a juror involved in a murder case. “I said they shouldn’t be saying anything,” said Sheik, but found the juror had mentioned the case on Facebook.

In light of this, Sheikh vowed “I will be doing it for every trial.”

This might be some added bother on top of the typical attorney’s responsibility. As Leslie Ellis, a Washington D.C. jury consultant said, according to the Associated Press, “Social media searches are time consuming and expensive. What takes so long is confirming that you have found the right person.” After all, many different people on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have the same name, and not all of them provide photos of themselves.

Sniffing out an opportunity, one company has offered to aid lawyers with such internet sleuthing. Whether this becomes a thing remains to be seen, but at least this much is certain: the evolving nature of social media has once again changed the legal sphere in turn, altering how jurors adjudicate and how lawyers prosecute. And so it always shall be, with the law striving to keep in step with the changing landscape of social media.

Why Your Firm Should Use Social Media for Social Recruiting: How to Do it Right

Across the business world, recruiting has changed drastically, responding to the styles, preferences, and culture of the Millennial Generation (ages 18-34). No longer are they reading newspapers, they read blogs; no longer are they mailing out résumés, they are posting them on LinkedIn; no longer are they hobnobbing in person, more and more of their social life happens on the internet. Most hiring managers have caught on, and matched their search to work in tandem with the emerging interconnected economy. The legal profession, however, has only slowly changed their hiring to incorporate social media in their legal recruiting.

The lag may relate to the surplus of candidates they can sift through. On average, only 55 percent of JDs are employed in law jobs 9-months out from their graduation date. The rest are eagerly waiting for an opportunity, and maybe resentfully delivering pizzas in the meantime. Nevertheless, those firms hoping to land the cream of the crop to their firms would be smart to plug in to what Millennials care about.

This means establishing a strong internet presence. To make your company visible to potential hires, you will need to place yourself where they are looking, and give them a reason to spend time on your site. This means mastering the ways of LinkedIn, of course, and also such upstart companies as ViewYou, which many law students have been using to make short videos to introduce themselves to potential employers. Firms are only slowly catching on to the students who are making such videos, but those students, who include the most technologically savvy, would be tapping into a pool of candidates attuned to the changing structure of society as well, not to mention the business world, and including even the legal world and intellectual property.

Aside from mastering the obvious sites such as LinkedIn, you want to create a buzz around your business. You can do this only by catching the interest of students and others, and you do this by adding content to your website. Make videos, write advice, give information; be a source prospective employees would want to return to again and again, and better than that, to tell their friends. After all, desire is not a personal matter, but a crowd matter: we desire what we think others will be impressed by. If you can update your site with interesting materials, including engaging updates, and giving content they are likely to reference — such as handling student loans, how to network, this sort of thing — then you will have created something of value to them. If you can arrange it so you become a prestigious topic on the lips of respected people, you will have the buzz you need to establish interest, and attention.

Meanwhile, get your current staff buzzing about their business. Ask them to use their social media to spread the word about job openings. Such a cloud of witnesses gives you a presence and charges your name with a sense of desire and respect. This, after all, is what you want, and can be achieved, in part, by upping your internet savvy.

Why and How to Work with a Legal Recruiter for Your Lateral Move

Today’s legal market is highly competitive, and though lateral moves are currently common, with few people working their whole lives at one firm, finding time to discover what positions exist, and doing so covertly so as not to alarm your current firm, may prove challenging, especially in respect to your work load. Meanwhile, legal recruiters keep making cold-calls. Should you screen them? Field them, even if you aren’t interested in switching: you will at least gain insight into what you are worth on the market, and that grants leverage with your own firm.

Legal recruiters offer free information about the job market, and only ask for a few minutes of your time. Taking some of these calls might enlighten you. Nevertheless, you want to be smart, and that means knowing who are dealing with.

Ask a lot of direct questions regarding the recruiter’s expertise. You want to know whether he specializes in your area of practice, and what specific locations he prefers to work with. Vague answers such as that he works “nationally” or represents many areas of interest are bad signs: he may be inept and may misrepresent. Worse, he may pillage your résumé and use it to gain some résumé quota, meanwhile ineffectually plastering your name across the board of major firms.

Therefore be smart, be choosy, and withhold giving your résumé too soon. What you want, first of all, is to establish a bond of trust. There are enough legal recruiters for you to be choosy. Do you feel right about this person? Don’t trust your gut alone. Research him intensely, if you are considering working with him, by looking at his company’s website, his personal bio, his LinkedIn account, and contacting his former clients. Further still, ask for references, and follow up with them. Also ask around, and hear who has some repute and good standing in the field.

Avoid the misuse of your résumé, as already mentioned, avoid recruiters who offer you jobs that don’t exist, only to get your résumé. Check his background before you give him anything like a résumé.

Once you’ve decided to work with a recruiter, set a specific agenda with him, working out a clear tactic that will get you what you want without distracting you from your current work and without alerting your firm to your intentions.

Taking care to discover who you are working with ensures you will find somebody worthwhile. In the meantime, listening to a pitch or two from different recruiters, and asking a lot of questions, can give you a sense for the field and your standing therein. Be willing at times to give them an ear, but be careful in who you disclose information to. You will want to know how many interviews and placements a recruiter’s firm has secured; you will want to know who you are working with. Having gained this, a recruiter can take the pain of searching out prospects for your lateral move much easier. Gaining the best position is easier when working with a legal recruiter who knows what they are doing.

The Power of Networking to Help You Land Your Dream Job

Networking often sounds intimidating; it is not. In fact, this is one of the most powerful tools you could use to find your dream job. It is faster, better, and definitely more possible than through any other means available to find you and land you your dream job. Networking does require work and consistency, but is well worth the effort.

The advantage of finding a job through networking is that your application is already recommended by someone the employer trusts, and hence, it is easier for you to get that job than any other contender to the job.

Types of Networking You Should Know about and Use

You may be one of those people who think that networking is just that. There are actually two major types of networking, and if you want to find your dream job quickly, you need to broaden both.

1. Informal Networking – This is what you do without really thinking that you are networking. When you talk to your family, friends, neighbors, college friends, people you see at the grocery store, people you meet while you are commuting, and so on, you are actually networking informally.

When you are looking for a job opening, go ahead and announce this across your informal network. You never know who knows someone else who would be love to use a person of your qualifications. This could land you the job you are dreaming about just by knowing the right person.

2. Formal Networking – This type of networking is as powerful and useful as the informal type. Here the networking is at a different level and definitely more formal. This is when you contact and develop rapport with peers, seniors, and juniors in your field of experience and interest. To grow and broaden this network you need to attend conferences, seminars, workshops, etc. in your field. You could also join professional social media networks such as LinkedIn where professionals connect to one another for mutual support and growth.

To remain on the top of the head in a formal network, you need to send regular updates regarding your professional achievements, accolades, etc. Pace the flow of information in such a manner that it stays interesting and achieves its purpose. If it is too often, the information would be ignored as spam very soon; if it is too rare, the relevancy of the information would be lost.

Always invest time and effort in networking; this is one tool that will never fail you when you are looking for a job.

What You Can Do When You Want to Change Practice Areas

I frequently speak with attorneys who are keen on changing their practice area. These days, my almost-immediate response is that this is not a transition market, meaning law firms are not as open to entertaining the notion that one’s skills in a particular area may be transferable to another area. We know that many different factors affect the probability of one’s being able to switch practice areas.  A few of these factors are somewhat out of your control such as the number of years you have been practicing, the condition of the legal-job market, the market demand of the practice areas you want to exit and enter, your geographic location, the law firm with whom you are currently, and your academic background.  If you do want to switch practices now, given the current climate working against change, you should evaluate your record, and focus on what you can do to direct your future.  You need to be able to present a clear and compelling case as to why you are well-suited for the new practice area.

Think about your professional and academic background, and what it is from each that makes you suitable for the area you want to enter.  Perhaps you completed an undergraduate degree in an area that is key to the practice?  Review the specialized certifications you may have earned in law school, the subject matter of the journal you wrote on, and the relevance of your clerkships and externships to the area you want to enter.  If you had a career before the law, consider whether the work you did prior to law school is pertinent to the work you want to do now.  And, of course, analyze the areas in which you work now.  Think about the substantive work that you do, how you interact with and understand other practice areas, the client industries you service, and the amount of experience you may have in subspecialties or in practices that area complementary to yours.

In addition to your past, think about what you can do to work towards the area in which you would like to practice.  Consider charting your own education in the area by planning out a curriculum of CLE courses.  This is a good idea not only for educating you in the foundation of the practice subject but, also for informing you of the current trends and issues in the area.  If possible, seek out pro bono matters in the area you would like to enter.  This is a good idea for demonstrating commitment to the new practice as well as for evidencing your ability to work in the area and with little or no supervision.

If you have a background that reasonably links you with a practice, or if you are willing to work towards justifying a strong enough connection to a new area, then you may have a case to make.  Just remember that you will still have to work against a market that is resistant to change and that, in this instance, the burden of proof is on you.