Friday, January 30, 2009

tip of the day - standing out

A commenter asked about how young lawyers can "stand out" these days when it is so important to show your worth to the firm.  My observations here apply in BigLaw, smaller offices, government jobs, etc.  

What I have found over the years is that younger lawyers do not take OWNERSHIP of a matter.  I don't know whether they assume the partner/senior attorney will eventually oversee and fix everything, or they have been happy collecting 160,000 starting salaries in some places and feel they can clock in and clock out as long as they bill the hours, etc., but I notice a definitely loss of ownership of matters.

What this means is that when there is a project: a brief, a corporate agreement, etc., you assume responsibility from beginning to end.  And even at the end, you may further assume responsibility to remind clients/other attorneys of upcoming deadlines, or if you see a development in the trade press, etc., to bring it to someone's attention.  This subject is a bit hard to articulate, so let me try to elaborate.

When I was brought into a project, I assumed that I was there from start to finish.  I assumed that I was a critical team member.  Let's say it was legal research, and drafting a memorandum.  I would obviously, promptly conduct the research.  If the research indicated there were new developments (such as pending legislation or court cases), I would track those down, not just tell someone they were out there.  I would work with Lexis staff, our librarian, etc. to find the information.  I would draft the memorandum.  I would deliver it promptly. If there was follow-up, I would take care of that promptly as well.  Sounds easy, right?

Well, let's say that another project comes up in the middle of first project.  Unless partner two has spoken to partner one about interfering with first project, it is still my job to finish project one. Even if I have to stay late, work weekends, etc.  And of course, I have to keep moving on project two. This may mean I have so cancel some social or other engagements.

Let's say I am supposed to head out of town to visit family.  Do I just tell these people I am heading out and dump my half-completed research?  NOOOOOO.  This will make you stand out in a bad way.  Either complete the work before you go (don't tell me there's no time, I've completed many assignments in the middle of the night from my home computer), or take the work and a laptop and get it done in a timely fashion while you are gone.  Everyone has outside commitments.  This doesn't mean you can leave unfinished work.  Take ownership of any project just like it is your solo project -- show that you are dedicated and that you take your work seriously, and that people can always depend on you.  

Once I have sent out my memo, do I just go into oblivion?  NOOOOOO.  Especially if you are out of the office, make sure the other attorneys have everything they would need:  your memo, copies of your cases, legislation, etc., and of course, all your contact information.  Tell them you are available for any questions (they probably won't call but this makes you look responsible and interested).  Check your messages and return calls and emails if they do have questions.  If there was some unfinished business, like you need to speak with some third party, take their contact information, follow up, and report back.  People will notice that you handled this responsibly.  

One of the things I hear from attorneys is that the younger attorneys don't seem to "care" about matters.  After your particular task is done, don't just check out and move on.  This isn't McDonald's where you just ring up the special combo no. 1 and move on to the next drive through customer.  Check in with the assigning attorney to see if they need anything else/ask how the matter is going (maybe they will even take you along to some of the follow-up, because you seem interested and invested!).  This demonstrates that you are a "team" member, and remember, your goal is to stay on the team.  

Happy Friday, everyone.  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Attire Part II

I'd like to digress from our rather substantive and hopefully helpful discussion (and let's hear it for GP, who really tried to work it -- and believe me, GP is busy on so many fronts).  Anyway, someone asked about clothing and whether it is necessary to wear expensive suits and other attire or whether some lesser known brands would make one look very un-BigLaw.  

My take on all this, whether man or woman (and GP, feel free to jump in) is that it is not the label, per se, but the overall quality of the look.  Most importantly, FIT.  You could have the most expensive Saks suit on, but if it is tight, too long, etc., that will detract from your overall presentation, and get you remembered in a bad way. For instance, there is a guy at my old firm and whenever I refer to him (partially because I can't remember his name), I always say "the guy who worked for Joe whose pants were too tight").  

When shopping, look for quality.  Something that will last.  You can find bargains, especially these days, with sales, etc., but make sure it is something that you can actually wear.  The easiest would be a classic navy suit.  Make sure it fits your CURRENT body (not your body after you start going to the gym every morning at 5am and finish boot camp).  Spend money on tailoring - very important.  I don't know why people skimp here. Get the pants and the sleeves properly tailored. Bring the shoes you normally would wear with the suit or outfit to the tailor.  
I worked with a partner when I was a first year associate.  He was reportedly independently wealthy and also brilliant.  However, the main thing I noticed about him was that his suits were just old looking and too tight.  I thought at the time "we all gain and lose weight, sometimes we just need to accept what doesn't fit and put it away...or give it away.  Sometimes we just need to buy new suits." [or other business attire].

A related topic here is to make sure that the clothing sits right on the body. Now, this tends to be more of a woman issue, but the gap in the blouse in the middle of the chest, the shirt that won't stay tucked in, etc., also detract from your look.  "Too sexy" clothing further cuts down on the professionalism.  You don't want your nickname at the firm to be "the half naked one."  Similarly, undergarments are just that...things to be worn UNDER clothes - you don't want thongs showing in the AMLAW -- yes, we have seen this.  

Overall, it is not so much the price but the overall quality and fit of the clothing. You want to project a professional appearance.  You want to be remembered for your stellar work, your work ethic, your collegiality.  You don't want to be remembered for your tight suit pants.

Monday, January 26, 2009

No Job - now what

Well, GP wasn't a huge hit the first time out.  Remember, GP's viewpoint is just another viewpoint.  You and I may not agree (for instance, I use Lexis all the time and don't mind others using it), but keep in mind that GP is a partner at a top firm and these are GP's views.  Right or wrong, some people think this way. That is why it is good to hear different viewpoints so you will know that each person you report to or may reach out to will have a different approach.  GP wanted to provide some further guidance, so GP has taken another stab, below. Hopefully it will cut and paste cleanly.  Not to worry, HP just got very busy - but HP will be posting own stuff as well.   

Here's GP's post:

With all the associate lay offs, what is the upcoming law graduate or current law clerk with no law firm employment prospects to do?

Let's first caveat this by say, GP is assuming a lawyer in this position wants to get into a law firm and not be educated on the alternative uses of a JD or the joys of working in a law school alumni office.  Thus, the issue here is what is your best springboard to that prestigious law firm job?

First, it does not make sense to wait for that interview you were promised or a response to that letter you sent out.  You have got to get a job, any job, out of law school!  I have seen smart associates from good law schools think they can delay things until after they take the bar. Wrong.  A three or four (or more) month gap from law school graduation to passing the bar will raise questions.  "Studying for the bar" won't cut it as a reply to "what have you been doing since you graduated from law school?" [HP editorial note - in current economy, hiring people won't be shocked, but you should show you are doing something in furtherance of career, even an internship].

Second, consider small firms that don't pay as much, contract agencies that can place you in a temporary position or family friends or law school alumni wiling to do favors (trust me, if you think hard enough you will identify at least a handful) and make calls.  These are all good options that should be aggressively pursued.  [HP note: no stalking!].  (Warning, be prepared for a serious salary cut, but consider it a great investment in your future).  

Clerkships are also alternatives to small firms and temporary contract work, but refrain from multiple clerkships (unless extremely prestigious).  Law clerk experience is valuable but you don't want to paint yourself as not ready or prepared for firm life and right or wrong, a two to three year stint as a law clerk will do just that.  (By the way, if that is what you want, you could also wait.  I know an associate who took a two year leave of absence recently to take a clerkship at a federal court of appeals.  He is now back and getting plugged right back into life at firm).

Bottom line, you need experience and you need to be able to document that you stayed in the market and did not give up.  It is not necessarily common, but I have personally hired at least one attorney who came in as a contract attorney and demonstrated to me her ability to make an outstanding associate.  (Some firms, however, do have a policy prohibiting hiring contract attorneys as associates).  Working as a contract attorney on a longer term basis can also help you obtain a referral for future employment at a firm.

Ok, I didn't say pursue a government job.  First, it is not so easy to quickly obtain employment in the government.  The application process itself can take months, and you can't afford months.  Second a government job is not an easy springboard to a big firm in most instances.  A United States Attorneys Office is one thing, but a GS-11 position at FEMA, DOL or the EEOC, probably not.  (Government work is sometimes easier to explore once you are at a firm.  I know of at least four associates who left the firm to explore opportunities at the Dept. of Justice, primarily to obtain trial experience.  It is not easy to return, and not all former associates want to return.  I know one who tried and was welcomed back and is now Counsel.

To sum up:

-- pursue small firm work, temporary contract work, available clerkships

-- contact alumni and friends in the field who can make some calls or introductions

-- review firm web sites - who do you know?  who is an alum of your law school or college?

-- be careful of career limiting opportunities like multiple clerkships, certain government jobs.  

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guest Poster - Helpful Hints

I am the guest poster that was introduced here last week. I am a partner at an Am Law top 10 firm. I know this is a very hard time for all of us, especially given the lay offs at many of the nation's top law firms. It is more important than ever for associates to stay focused on their performance and to continue to demonstrate their value to their respective firms. There are a lot of ways to do this - here are four quick pointers: (1) Communicate. Make sure that you are always on the same page with your partner regarding the scope of an assignment, the due date for that assignment and the form of the the assignment (email, or formal memo); (2) No Suprises. Make sure that your team members know where you are on the weekends and know in advance, if possible, when a vacation is planned. (3) Blackberry. Everyone should regularly check their messages and respond to them, but do not use your blackberry or your cell phone when you are in client meetings or meeting with your Partners. and (4) Legal Research. It is good to be thorough, but with Westlaw and Lexis it can come at a huge cost for the client and a surprise for the billing Partner. Always ask if you are going to use these expensive on-line research tools. Better yet, do not use them. Loislaw is free and just as good and there are others as well. Well those are my four pointers for this week, I hope they are helpful and I hope to be invited back again soon to offer suggestions. Have a great week.


Someone mentioned Above the Law in the comments.  I have been meaning to ask you, does anyone get the sense that they are copying HP's office.  In the newish series they have where you can ask a question, they seemed to cover several topics I already covered.  Such as the holiday party, and sending thank yous.  With all the input they get from their huge reader base and the resources they have (over my little bare bones blog here), do you really think they need to copy me?  Maybe I am off base, maybe it is just coincidence...but after the second time (and I think there was a third I can't remember), I just wondered if any of you noticed. Thoughts?

TMI = too much information

As promised, I did want to address the TMI factor in workplace communications.  I realize this is a law blog, but this advice really does apply across different industries and office environments.

Far too often, I and others receive emails or perhaps voicemails from people (attorneys, staff, etc.) indicating they will be out of the office, or late or something similar and then sharing TMI = too much information.  I do not need to know that you have diarrhea, or an abscessed tooth or whatever.  Of course if there is a serious health problem and you will be out for an extended time, that is a different situation.  I am talking about brief absences.  And these don't have to be limited to doctors' appointments and sick days.  This can include your being out to attend to a child's event, such as a party at school.

Years ago, a staff member at my sister's firm would be absent from work a lot due to the usual illnesses that come up with a young child.  Every time she would email "Johnny has a virus and I will be out."  "Johnny has [insert illness."  They understand but it was getting old.  And when she specified that she would be out to join the class at the pumpkin patch field trip later on, that just about sent everyone off the edge.  A simple "I will be out of the office for some appointments tomorrow but will be checking messages and here is my cell" would have been fine, and more effective.  

You really don't need to share details, generally speaking.  If someone tells me they have "an appointment outside the office," I don't ask any further questions.  This is a good all purpose line.  I often have appointments or meetings outside the office.  That is enough information for most workplaces.  A former colleague of mine was given solid advice by a mentor, something along the lines of "don't say you are going to the hair stylist or your kids' school, etc.  Just say you have an appointment outside the office."  Someone else I know puts an out of office message along the lines of "I will be attending a series of meetings outside the office on ________, but I will be checking voicemails and emails.."  Now the series of meetings could include the dentist, the parent teacher conference, etc.  But we don't need to know all that.  Keep it short and professional.  Of course, keep an eye on messages if you can to guard for any work crises that may arise while you are out.

Thanks for your input.  I will try to go back to at least 2-3 times a week posting.   Hang in there, I know it is a difficult market.  I have a few friends now out on the street.  

Have a fun Saturday.  

Friday, January 23, 2009


Arrrh...guest partner, who I trusted, ot busy on a matter and didn't draft the entry.  I'm sorry we kept you waiting.  I really thought GP would get this done.  GP is in some hot water with me now.  You shouldn't let your friends down.  If you commit to a task, you do it, even if you are busy. There is always some time.  I told GP that it isn't as easy as it seems, writing something for the blog, but it doesn't take that long once you sit down and get the thoughts rolling.

Oh well, I will give GP a second chance when GP is ready.  I'm sorry we kept you folks waiting.  You deserved better.

I will post this weekend.  If you've got pressing questions, send them along and I will see what I can do.  Happy Friday! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

News - Guest Partner coming

I'm excited to report we are going to have a guest poster soon.  Guest Partner is a partner at another law firm.  Guest Partner should be posting shortly and will introduce self to you.  I'm hoping guest partner will provide some additional views and I always think it is great to hear from different people. 

So, I hope you will welcome Guest Partner and treat GP with the same warmth and respect you send my way.....well, since GP is a guest, a little nicer please.  Actually, GP is very no nonsense and somewhat tough -- will be good to get that viewpoint as well.

Stay tuned and join my in welcoming Guest Partner to our fold.  

Saturday, January 10, 2009

the Hypersensitive Colleague

My discussion of watching the F-bomb and other questionable language reminded me that I meant to mention the hypersensitive colleague.  Do you remember in law school the case of the "eggshell plaintiff"?  (Hopefully I have remembered the reference correctly).  This person isn't necessarily the "reasonable person" standard but is overly sensitive to things others may say or do -- putting this in the workplace perspective rather than the torts perspective.

The hypersensitive colleague can cause you trouble.  How?  Well, let's say you joke around with hypersensitive colleague about [insert anything, they are very sensitive after all].  Hypersensitive colleague complains to a partner/or management.  Now, the supervisors may very well know hypersensitive colleague complains about everything; but, you might nevertheless be implicated in making a reportedly insensitive or even inappropriate comment.

You might be asking:  this is a will I know when I am stepping on a bomb?  The problem is you won't know necessarily.  But, if you hear someone could fall in this category, be very careful about jokes, misc. observations (especially of the personal type, etc.).  Keep it very professional.  Be overly cautious in your communications with this type of colleague.  

I've seen some good questions in the recent comments posted here and will try to address some of them.  

Have you done something to advance your career in the last week?  Reached out to someone new?  Started to learn about a new area?  

Friday, January 9, 2009

F-Bombs and Other Curses/Language

Hmmm....there seems to be some back and forth in the comments to my last post regarding F-bombs in the office, and related bad language.  Look, I am not saying that I never say the F-bomb.  I am just saying you need to be careful about language you use in the professional workplace.  You'll recall this came up in my discussion regarding being careful what you put out there in the social networking/cyberspace world. 

If you are sitting in a friend's office and the F-bomb flies, this is not a big deal. But, you need to be careful about who you use foul language in front of -- don't assume that just because someone is your age, or younger, or you are very familiar with them, that throwing the F-bomb or other foul language is ok.  The best thing is to be careful and watch the language.

First, do not curse in an interview!  DON'T DO IT!  Did you hear me?  Don't do it. Just because some of us look young and maybe even hip doesn't mean we think it would be appropriate for you to say shit, or f-bomb or whatever along those lines.  Or "the professor screwed me with that grade."  This goes to JUDGEMENT...and we will think ... how will this person behave in front of a client?

Case in point, a relatively youthful partner of mine takes great offense when people curse -- in any setting.  A person interviewed with her as a lateral.  This guy figured they are about the same age and let the f-bomb fly.  She complained and let her views known.  I don't believe he got hired.

Second, do not curse with clients.  Even if you are on very friendly terms, remember this is still an attorney/client relationship.  Remember, I told you guys and gals at the very beginning of the blog -- YOU ARE NOT AT HOME.  Guard your words.  

Case in point, I had a client who is a very religious woman.  You wouldn't necessarily know this off the bat, but over the years, I have learned how devoted she is to her religion.  She would take offense to cursing.  

Overall, just be cautious.  That isn't saying you can't be yourself - but keep in mind you are in a professional setting and it is always better to be on the conservative side when it comes to oral and written communications.  

We can address the TMI factor in communications in another post.

Hope you have a fun-filled weekend.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

social networking

Today, many of us have become devotees of Facebook and Myspace.  I joined Facebook last year and have re-connected with many old friends.  If you were to see my Facebook page, you would see a photo of me - fairly standard pic - and some family photos.  A couple of friends have 'tagged" me in photos from the past.  There's nothing shocking or "wild" out there in my Facebook land.  And, that is what I wanted to address.

Social networking can be a powerful tool for reconnecting socially and possibly even leading to networking and business opportunities.  But, you also have to be aware of the dangers when it comes to your career. Our recruiters routinely do Google and other searches on lateral and new recruits.  They don't want to read everything; they do want to look for things that may show a lack of judgment or embarrass the firm.  So, if you have a personal webpage listed on your Facebook account, and your personal webpage has pics of you drunk/half naked, etc., these are not going to help your career.  I am a fan of social networking, but you need to use it cautiously.   I just saw someone comment on another person's wall reminiscing about how they used to do mesc and ecstasy at a local establishment.  Why would you post that publicly?

On Facebook, you can use the privacy controls to make your profile private and available just for your Friends.  This is a good idea.  If we can't access your information, that generally shows good judgment.  On a related topic, beware what you post in your own name (versus anonymous) as comments on blogs, message boards, etc.  These too will also come up in searches.

Feel free to connect with your friends through social networking.  In fact, it is what I recommend in terms of connecting and reconnecting and expanding your base.  Just remember who has access to your posts and remember that what you post -- even to your friends -- could easily be forwarded around.

When I was a junior associate, someone once taught me as to an email or a memo:  if what you wrote ended up on the front  page of the New York Times..would you or your client be terribly embarrassed?  If so, don't write it.  

Be social, but be safe.

And, on my earlier subject, what have you done this week to further your career?  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

salary freezes

The big news on some of the other legal blogs appears to be salary freezes at various AM Law firms.  This is usually followed by comments by associates at these firms noting how firm is traditionally "cheap," or a "follower," etc.  Similarly, there's been a lot of talk on the boards about annual bonuses, whether "Skadden" level or "measly" half-Skadden (believe me, it is still a darn good bonus).  In these times, with you, your relatives, or friends being laid off, why are we complaining?

If you have a bigLaw job and let's say, started off at 160,000 or even 135-145,000, the fact that firms are going to hold for a year at the same salary shouldn't be alarming. Of course, it is nice to get raises - understand the cost of living increases -- but I ask the same question; wouldn't you prefer a pay freeze or a reduced bonus over no job for you and your friends??  People need to come back to reality here -- a "half-Skadden" is still a friggin nice thing to have.  And it is a heck of a lot better than being a headhunter's reject because there's few jobs out there.

Start the new year off without the complaints.  Be enthusiastic.  Be a company man or woman (while networking, developing expertise, growing your reputation and base).  Long term view should trump the short term whining.  

I also want to address social networking, and will do that in an upcoming post.

Thanks for your votes on the ABA journal.  I still go trounced by the Temporary Attorney, but apparently there is a lot of interest in that topic these days!

Happy 09 once again.  

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

Hello my friends.  Happy New Year!   We all know that 2008 was a difficult time in the legal market.  Things changed drastically -- gone are the days when associates could just keep screaming on the blogs "raise the salaries," "raise the bonuses."  Well, they could keep screaming but if it were me, I'd prefer a job over a bonus.  While I hate to see firms like Heller and Thelen erupt, I do think that greed had gotten out of hand, both at the partner level and at the associate level.  Clients shouldn't be gouged just so you can meet your targets - this applies to both partners and associates.  And, my experience with many of the millenials was that they were obsessed with the money, and less obsessed with learning how to be a good lawyer and doing good legal work.  I don't like to witness good lawyers laid off suddenly, but I also think that the new legal economy will bring things back into perspective, and where people work hard, get paid well, and do a solid job.

Now, since it is the new year, I guess we should have some resolutions.  I would encourage each of you to do something at least once a week to further your career.  This may be small steps, or bigger steps.  You've heard me say this before, and I will say it again:  you need to own your career.  No one is going to guide it for you.  Here's some suggestions for things we can all do:

1. Start to learn a new specialty or sub-specialty.  There's tons of new laws and regulations out there at the federal and state levels.  This is a huge opportunity for younger as well as more experienced lawyers.  You can become well-versed in something new and perhaps be heard as the "expert" -- remember, someone practicing in the general area for 20 years also has to learn the new law or go ahead and jump right in.   You may love the fact that you know X inside and out.  But what if the need for knowledge of X goes away?  Don't get stuck in a very limited knowledge base.  I've stayed busy (and employed!) by being able to adapt. 

2. Continue to build your network. Do not just lunch with your office mates.  Get out there.  Call up old law school friends, people you met through bar activities, etc.  You never know when these people will, say, move in house -- and it does happen.  In addition to getting out of the office and clearing your head for a little while, you are expanding your base.

3. Don't forget to tend to your existing network.  Did you see an Internet article or blurb that might be of interest to a contact, forward it with a short note; go ahead and wish them a Happy New Year; perhaps invite them to lunch or to an event your firm or organization is hosting (assuming you are allowed)

4. At the end of each week -- ask yourself -- what have I done to further my career this week?  Make some notes about what you will do the following week.

3. If you are thinking of making a move, let your close friends (outside of firm or organization) who are discreet know that you may be open to opportunities.  I know so many people who have found great positions through referrals from friends.

2. If you can help a friend, former colleague, etc., who may be "on the street" with suggestions for new situations, go ahead.  Send them job listings you see, if you know of an opening at a client that may be right for your friend, let your friend know.  

1. Don't burn bridges.  If you act like an a-hole, people will not help you. This seems pretty obvious but you would be shocked at some of the behavior. Stay away from office cliques, treat all people with common courtesy and respect, deliver what you promise, be tough, but be fair.