Associate Advice

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the second part of a two-part series, Casey Berman gives some practical advice to attorneys considering a corporate in-house counsel position.

While some are viewed as a valuable resource, many non-lawyers in the company automatically stereotype company attorneys as mere red tape, as an expense, or as an obstacle to be avoided (or derided as the “Department of Sales Prevention”). “Often, lawyers are considered overhead in a corporate situation, and to be a success, it really helps to be able to show how you contribute to the bottom line or at least don’t add significantly to it,” says Katie Slater, former Assistant General Counsel at AEI Services, a Houston based energy company, who now runs Career Infusion Coaching, a career management firm for lawyers.  In-house attorneys always have to manage expectations and demonstrate over time how their legal skill set contributes to the collective goals of the company.

The best way to demonstrate this value is to be able to communicate and express ideas in a quick, clear way in order to give guidance and ideas for next steps. “Bottom-line communication ability — can you say things in three bullet points or less, and in plain English?” says Slater.  “Being able to break down a legal issue simply and coherently to get to why this is an issue from a business perspective is a huge skill that will be valued.  Can you give ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers, and, if the answer is ‘No,’ can you come up with alternatives or work-arounds?”

Many business types think lawyers are put on earth to tell them “No.” To combat this, successful in-house attorneys are responsive (even if they are still working on an answer), and provide the business units with alternatives to mull on and consider. This interaction can build trust and shows that the attorneys is indeed on their side and contributing to business persons personal goals and the overall growth of the company.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the first of a two-part series, Joshua Stein gives some practical advice on how manage your workflow.

As your work piles up, you will often feel as if you can’t possibly finish it. Each project seems overwhelming when you think about it in the abstract. And as soon as you start work on a new project, and figure out what it will actually require, it can become even more overwhelming.

This article and its sequel share a few techniques I use to help gain some control over my workflow. Few of these ideas are original, but I’ve included my own variations and suggestions.

A. Managing Everything. You will feel less overwhelmed if you protect yourself from feeling physically overwhelmed by the projects on your plate. For example, don’t cover your desk with piles of active tasks. For each active task, collect the various pieces of paper in a folder. Put all your folders away. Keep a “to-do” list of all your active tasks — every one of them — without writing other reminders to yourself anywhere else. Your to-do list should include everything. My own to-do list consists of a Word document with three columns: client work; other work; and personal projects. First priority tasks go to the top of each list. Some people use Outlook or even dedicated software. In any case, keep track of what you need to do and your priorities in a way that you don’t unintentionally leave anything behind. You should, however, also stay flexible in reordering and adjusting the list as you go. Regardless of format, a to-do list will help you feel more in control of your agenda, inviting you to set priorities and take each job one at a time. It’s far better than living with a chaotic physical mess that constantly taunts you about what you haven’t done….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From the Career Files: Getting Your Work Done (Part One)”

Ed. note: This is the tenth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the first of a two-part series, Casey Berman gives some practical advice to attorneys considering a corporate in-house counsel position.

For many lawyers looking to leave the law firm or explore other legal careers, in-house counsel often arises as a favorite option. Some of these attorneys want to be happy in their job. Others want a job that is anywhere but the firm. Others like the idea of fewer hours and a flexible schedule. And still others are attracted to expanding their responsibilities and broadening their business exposure.

This article explores just what it takes to be an in-house attorney, the expectations and demands of the role, and the potential career paths. While these positions are often coveted and hard to get, it takes critical analysis (of one’s personal skills and the job’s duties) to ensure that this role could be the answer to an attorney’s job hunting prayers.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the ninth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Desiree Moore gives some practical advice to new associates on delivering work product to their supervising attorneys.

As a new lawyer, you will be expected to deliver assignments in a variety of ways. For example, you may be asked to do an oral presentation of the results of your assigned research, provide a “marked up” copy of a case or statute or contract for the assigning attorney, or create written work product. In all instances, be sure you are clear at the outset when you receive the assignment as to how you will be expected to deliver it. Listen carefully, take notes, and be sure to remit your work exactly as expected.

Where an assignment calls for written work product, think carefully about how you will deliver it. The ideal method of delivery is to hand a hard copy of the assignment to the assigning attorney in person, and offer to follow up with an electronic copy of the assignment for his or her files.

However, if you are unable to connect with the assigning attorney in person, as is often the case, follow these five steps to ensure he or she receives the assignment in a manner that is both convenient and helpful.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the seventh installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some great advice for newly minted attorneys from Joshua Stein, the principal of Joshua Stein PLLC, a prominent commercial real estate law practice in Manhattan.

When you start out in any professional career, you will probably soon have someone to help you do your job, such as a paralegal, a secretary, or other assistant. Having that assistant can make your life easier, and help you do a better job — especially if you know how best to work with your new assistant. Here are some suggestions for working with any assistant, but particularly a secretary or a paralegal. Many but not all of these suggestions also apply to working with junior associates or other professionals who report to you.

A. Clear Instructions.
Your assistant doesn’t know what’s in your head. You have to tell them, at least until you’ve worked together long enough that your assistant develops a good sense of what you need done and how you like it done. Until that happens, make your instructions as clear as possible. Think about where things might go wrong, where your instructions might get misinterpreted. What steps did you forget to mention? Prevent problems by foreseeing them. Even if you can legitimately say the problem was “someone else’s fault,” it’s better if you can prevent the problem through foresight and by taking even more care than you might strictly think necessary. And make sure you define the project you want your assistant to complete. Don’t leave them guessing. What exactly do you expect them to accomplish, beyond “please take care of this”? What’s the “deliverable”?

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Ed. note: This is the fifth installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some advice, aimed at new lawyers, from Desiree Moore, an experienced Biglaw attorney and President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC, on dealing with generational differences in the workplace.

These days, in almost every legal practice, practitioners range in age from 25- to 80-years-old. New lawyers are starting their careers younger and younger and attorneys are retiring later and later. As a result, there are significant generational differences between the youngest and oldest attorneys within the same legal practices and often these differences can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and other negative consequences.

New lawyers may misunderstand what is being asked of them; older lawyers may misunderstand the information that is being communicated, or the manner in which the information is being communicated. This is generally not the most productive way for working relationships to be built or work to get done.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Tom Wallerstein

A friend of mine — now a successful partner — told me a story about when he was a junior associate at a well-known Biglaw firm. Phil used to work for a superstar partner who was incredibly well respected by his colleagues and clients, but somewhat feared by junior associates. Phil told me about the time when he had to confess to the partner that he had inadvertently produced to their adversary a small number of documents that had been tagged as “non-responsive”; i.e., documents that did not need to be produced because the adversary had not requested them.

Phil expected yelling and screaming, profanity, maybe a fist pounding on the table. But instead, the partner was silent. His face showed disappointment, not anger. He slowly shook his head side to side several times, muttering to himself, seemingly unable to comprehend why fate should be so cruel as to condemn him to work with such incompetents. He rubbed at his face and eyes, first with one hand, and then the other, as if he hoped to awaken himself from a stubborn bad dream.

After several moments, he sighed loudly, and looked at Phil with seeming pity. He sighed again, to make sure my friend fully comprehended the weight of despair that he was bearing, and then once more, for good measure. Finally, the partner said simply, “We’ll have to call the carrier.”

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Ed. note: This is the fourth installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some great advice for newly minted attorneys from Joshua Stein, the principal of Joshua Stein PLLC, a prominent commercial real estate law practice in Manhattan.

It’s your first year as a new lawyer. What do you need to know? How can you not screw it up? Here are some suggestions, based on more than 30 years of experience — as an associate at two firms, then a brief time as an associate at a third firm, followed by 20+ years as a partner at that third firm. These suggestions reflect my own experiences, lessons learned along the way, and what I’ve seen and heard from others. Nothing here applies specifically or uniquely to any firm where I worked.

It’s a Business. As much as we might all want law firms to be kind and gentle, remember that client demands are not kind and gentle. Also remember that a firm’s profitability — the ultimate main event — depends on buying a lot of legal expertise wholesale, converting it into as many hours of billable legal work as possible, then selling those hours at retail. That isn’t going to go away. Get used to it. That’s the business you’re in. If you don’t want to be in it, go find some other business to be in.

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Ed. note: This is the first installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, for the benefit of newly arrived (or soon-to-arrive) first-year associates, we have some advice from Ross Guberman on writing for the toughest audience they’ll ever face.

With the help of many clients, I recently surveyed thousands of law-firm partners about the writing skills they want to see associates develop.

Across the country and across practice areas, partners agree on what they’d like to change about associate drafts. I’ve organized their responses according to my Four Steps to Standout Legal Writing. I’ve also included a fifth category that covers usage and mechanics.

A few sample responses follow.

Step One: Concision

Partners say they spend too much time cutting clutter and other distractions from associate drafts. Anything that interrupts the message — wordy phrases, jargon, legalese, redundancy, blather, hyperbole — is a candidate for the chopping block.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Tom Wallerstein

I’ve been known to quip, “I thought I was wrong, once, but I was mistaken.” But I realize that my column here on Above the Law has often been “wrong” in at least one important way: I’ve compared apples to oranges.

For example, I authored a “top ten” list of differences between working in a big firm and working in a boutique. But many of the items focused on differences between employee and owner. I compared working where “you get paid either a salary or an hourly rate” with “running your own shop.” I compared “making all the decisions in my cases” with “waiting for a partner to act on my recommendations.” I compared doing the grunt work with making the important decisions.

That strikes me as comparing apples to oranges because all those comparisons actually contrasted being an employee with being an owner. That fundamental distinction accounts for many of the supposed differences between working in Biglaw and working in a small firm or boutique.

But what about associates who are considering becoming associates at a small firm or boutique? That’s the true apples to apples comparison. If you’re not starting your own business, but will instead remain an associate, what are the real differences when moving “From Biglaw to Boutique”?

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