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, Alison Monahan shares some practical advice with associates.

When you show up for work at a law firm, you realize pretty quickly that there’s a lot to learn. Some things people will tell you, but there’s a lot of stuff no one’s going to tell you. Having been on both sides of the equation (as the one screwing things up, and the one getting annoyed with more junior people making my life difficult), here are a few things I learned along the way.

Ten Rules of Thumb for Law Firm Success

1. Don’t bring cases from the wrong jurisdiction. You remember Erie, right? If not, it’s time to review. There is very little that’s more annoying than giving a junior lawyer an assignment to find some case law, and having them come back with a state case, when you need a federal case, or vice versa. It’s one of those situations where you, as the assigning attorney, feel really confused. Did they not understand the assignment? Did they sleep through Civ Pro? Or do they just not care? None of these thoughts make me like you, or want to work with you again. Be sure you understand what you’re looking for, and resist the temptation to bring an irrelevant case, because you can’t find a relevant one.

2. On that note, no one cares how much effort you exerted. If you can’t find a case on point, just say that! If I ask what steps you took to search, feel free to tell me — in detail — so I won’t replicate your work. But do not go on about how many hours you spent, or how hard you looked. I don’t care. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re doing the best you can. But, if you can’t find what I need, I’ll have to find it myself, so it’s best just to give me the bad news, and get out of the way.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

A couple weeks ago, we shared with you some of our survey data, which showed that, generally speaking, law students’ experiences with their schools degrade over time. The ATL Insider Survey asks law students and alumni to rate their schools in the areas of academic instruction, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life. When the ratings by first-year students are compared with those of third-years, the 3L scores are lower across the board, in all categories. In other words, the longer students are exposed to their schools, the lower their regard for the institution becomes. More equals worse.

We wondered whether or how this downward trajectory manifests itself after the students become alumni. After the jump, we compare the perceptions of students to those of graduates. The answer may surprise you, but probably not. Also, we identify the law schools where there is the greatest contrast between the views of current students and alumni — both negatively and positively….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Law Schools May Appear Worse in the Rearview Mirror”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Anna Ivey explains to prospective law school applicants what they can expect in the upcoming application process.

You watch Law & Order reruns. You spoke to some lawyers who applied to law school ten years ago. You have a friend who is in law school right now, and he says you have nothing to worry about. You even looked at a sample LSAT test that a colleague of yours was taking. It looks doable enough. Maybe someone even told you to take the test cold to “see how you do.” You figure you’ll have a personal statement to write and some recommendations to line up, no big deal.

You think you know what the law school application process will be like, right? Think again.

Most prospective law school applicants are not fully informed about what will actually be required of them in order to apply to law school. That lack of information causes applicants to misjudge, and often underestimate, how much of their time and effort they will need to produce strong application materials.

So what should you expect from the application process? This week, we’re starting a series of tips on how to get yourself mentally prepared for what lies ahead if you hope to submit strong law school applications this fall.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, some practical advice for finding a mentor from Desiree Moore of Greenhorn Legal.

There is a great deal of value to be found in finding a successful mentor — someone who is looking out for you and advocating for your success. Without my mentor in the early years of my legal career I would have been lost in the substantive, technical, and interpersonal aspects of my law firm practice. The right mentor can change everything.

When choosing your mentor, keep the following guidelines in mind:

1. Choose Someone Internal

Your mentor should be someone internal (and not your uncle who is a lawyer in the Cayman Islands). Your mentor should be in a position to help you decipher and navigate your specific office dynamics.

Continue reading 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, Alison Monahan offers advice to the bosses of new lawyers.

After writing a few pieces advising young lawyers how to start off on the right foot in their new jobs, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to look at the question from the other angle: If you’re supervising a young lawyer (or a law student in a summer job), what can you do to help ensure a smooth transition?

Here’s some advice for the care and feeding of young lawyers (and lawyers-to-be)….

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A 3L in a ‘law-and-blank’ class yesterday.

“One of the well-known facts about law school is it never took three years to do what we are doing; it took maybe two years at most, maybe a year-and-a-half,” Larry Kramer, the former dean of Stanford Law, said in a 2010 speech. The continuing existence of the third year of law school is generally held to be one of the basic structural defects in our current legal education model, alongside the contracted job market and soaring tuition. There have been efforts to address the problem, the latest being NYU’s announced overhaul of its third year curriculum.

Yet these attempts to redefine what the 3L year means appear to many like half-measures at best, “lipstick on a pig” at worst. As we noted back in November, Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana/Maurer has made a sweeping proposal that calls for a special new program for 3Ls by a coalition of willing law schools. The 3Ls would embark on a skills-based, teamwork-heavy course of study in partnership with law firms who agree to employ the students, albeit at a reduced rate. Also, there is a proposal currently before the New York Bar that would allow students to take the bar exam after two years. These students would not obtain a J.D. unless they return for their third year, but would be eligible for a bar card.

In assessing the NYU proposal (basically an increase in study abroad and specialty courses), Professor Kenneth Anderson argues that law schools have allowed educational incentives (i.e., learning to how to be a lawyer) and credentialing incentives (i.e., becoming an attractive job candidate) to drift apart: “The problem lies in how very, very unattractive we’ve institutionally made [students’] incentives – and the price tag attached to what is essentially a bet rather than investment. It’s a bet with many more bad payoffs than good ones.”

All the discussion and debate about the three-year law school model focuses, understandably, on the utility of that third year. We thought it would be interesting to have a look at our survey data to get a sense of how the experience of law students changes over time. The ATL Insider Survey asks law students and alumni to rate their schools in academic instruction, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life. We wondered how, if at all, these perceptions differ between 1Ls and 3Ls….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Downhill Road from 1L to 3L”

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 five related articles, Casey Berman, founder of Leave Law Behind, a blog and community that focuses on helping unhappy attorneys leave the law, discusses the first step attorneys can take to leave the law.

Through Leave Law Behind, I work with many intelligent, driven, personable, resourceful, knowledgeable but nonetheless unhappy, dissatisfied, unmotivated, upset, and burnt out attorneys. They tell me that they want to leave the law behind and explore a completely new line of work. They tell me that they want to change their current practice of the law in order to enjoy their work more.

I tell them that there are five main steps to leaving the law. Five time-intensive-but-manageable, build-on-each-other-to-grow-your-confidence, incremental, rewarding (baby) steps one can take to leave the law behind for a fulfilling professional (and personal) life.

And the first step involves money.

Before polishing your résumé, or looking at potential jobs, or interviewing with a recruiter, or doing anything else, the first step in properly leaving the law requires becoming as confident and exact as possible in understanding (i) your expenses and (ii) your safety net and other sources of financial support you can call upon if needed.

Why the initial focus on money? Because one of the main obstacles lawyers face in leaving law behind is a fear around money: A fear of the unknown, a fear of a lack of financial literacy, a fear of facing their bad spending habits, a fear of having the “money talk” with their spouse, a fear that they can’t make money in any way other than being an attorney, a fear that if they leave their job as an attorney they’ll soon be financially ruined.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Just a typical lapsed lawyer (J.D., Northwestern ’68)

Lawyers turn into ex-lawyers for a host of reasons. The transition can be voluntary or not. We all know that erstwhile attorneys have successfully gone on to become, among thousands of other things, consultants, teachers, writers, and entrepreneurs. Late last year, in partnership with our friends at Adam Smith Esq., we reached out to lapsed lawyers to ask them their personal stories. Why did they choose the law in the first place? Why did they leave? What are they up to now? Do they regret leaving the practice of law? (A whopping 93% said “no” to that last question.)

We were quite pleased with the level of response to our survey: 430 former (or “recovering”) lawyers shared their stories with us. The tales they told us bring to mind a sort of inversion of Tolstoy’s line about happy and unhappy families. Those who were positive about their time spent practicing had a diverse range of experiences; those who were unhappy mostly tell the same story.

Read on for the details.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Lapsed Lawyers Survey Results”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, with the second semester looming, Alison Monahan offers some practical advice for law students dealing with a particularly maddening type of professor.

At some point in your law school experience, you’re likely to encounter a professor who — brilliant though he or she may be — just isn’t that interested in discussing “the law.” Sure, they’ll go on for hours about their pet theory of justice, or an esoteric research problem they’re working on, but good luck getting them to explain how Rule 4(k)(2) works.

This can be a frustrating scenario. (After all, you are paying for LAW school.)

Chances are good they’re not going to change their teaching style (hooray, tenure), but you can develop some coping mechanisms.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

Paul Cravath does not approve of this post.

Light years away and in the distant future, perhaps some alien grad student in Defunct Planet Studies will stumble onto the ATL archives. He’ll conclude, not unreasonably, that the legal industry was a sort of oligopoly. That there were only a handful of firms: Skadden, Cravath, Latham, Quinn Emanuel, Tannebaum Weiss, and those few others that get such a disproportionate amount of our attention. And of course, there were only 14 real law schools.

This singular obsession with “prestige,” this mindset that the most elite firms and schools are the only worthy ones, is detached from the experiences of the vast majority of lawyers practicing at the 50,000 other firms and the students at the 180+ other law schools. Back in December, we had a little debate about the effect of prestige in the legal industry. In the spirit of the “prestige obsession is bad” side of that argument, we thought it would be worthwhile to see which firms and schools outside of the very top tiers are, according to insiders, great places to work or learn.

Over the course of 2012, we received close to 10,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey, where lawyers rate their firms based on compensation, culture, morale, training, and culture, and students and alumni rate their schools based on academics, social life, clinical training, career services, and financial aid advising. Based on our survey, the most highly rated firms and schools also happened to among the most prestigious (e.g., Stanford, Davis Polk), but there is certainly not a correlation between prestige and insider rating.

After the jump, we’ll see which schools outside of the T14 and which firms outside the Vault 50 were rated the highest by their own people….

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