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 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….

Dear Law School Deans:

How’s the media boycott going? Oh wait… you’re not doing that? So it must feel a bit like a digital mob is baying at your walls. Apparently, any attempt to defend the “value proposition” of a legal education will be met with instant scorn and mockery (and not just here on ATL.)

Now, deep down, we all know that no serious person can actually believe that law school deans are venal and sinister characters looking to simply con students. You entered your profession in the hope of helping students get the best legal education possible. And you find yourself in a world where your motives are being impugned. And we all know the parade of horribles that is the legal job market: only about half of all law school graduates will find a job requiring bar passage, and at least half of those who do find legal jobs don’t make enough money to service their debt.

When law schools are put on the defensive about employment numbers, we often hear about how the J.D. is so incredibly versatile and will serve its holder well in any context: banking, consulting, business, and what have you. There is some skepticism about this.

On the one hand, there are too may lawyers and too few jobs. On the other, a law degree can be used in a variety of ways. There is a mountain of data proving the former assertion, there is little data to support or refute the latter. So let’s try to settle this….

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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)”


The end is in sight for our long national nightmare. Starting in 2014, the NCAA will institute a four-team playoff to crown the national college football champion. The 14-year reign of the BCS will be looked back upon as a time of national unity: everyone thought the system was horrible. Even President Obama decried the system on the campaign trail . The BCS has been described as anything from a “horrible Jenga tower of bad arguments” to a “broken, failed, even corrupt enterprise.” Oh wait, that second quote is from a blurb for Brian Tamanaha’s recent book Failing Law Schools. But of course there is an important parallel between the BCS and the legal education industry: they have few defenders outside their own walls. The soon-to-be obsolete BCS system is only considered successful by those with a financial stake in the status quo. As for our current model of legal education, efforts to defend its value from the inside have not been well received, to put it mildly. But there’s an important difference between the BCS and legal academia. The BCS has shown a willingness to adapt and transform itself in the face of widespread and well-founded criticism.

Anyway, as even casual football fans know, a college team’s prospects are highly correlated with how the students at its affiliated law school rate their experiences. (Ed. note: this is untrue). So, after the jump, let’s have a look at how the law schools for the BCS bowl schools match up.

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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….

‘…to take a survey (if you’re a non-practicing lawyer).’

You almost never hear of someone enduring the rigors of med school, becoming a doctor, practicing medicine for a few years, and then just ditching the profession altogether. The same could be said of licensed plumbers and electricians. Yet lapsed lawyers are everywhere: making chocolate, writing novels, blogging, leading the free world, whatever.

Obviously, there are myriad reasons for leaving the profession. Some ex- (or “recovering”) lawyers were nudged out or fired, while others left of their own free will to follow their muses onto different career paths. Some simply hated being a lawyer. Some hated the clients (e.g., “[W]hat do I care about some stranger let alone his problems?” — Columbia Law grad turned soldier-of-fortune Denis Clifford).

Not everyone buys into the idea that a law degree is so versatile (hi, Elie), but some non-practicing JDs do find that that their legal training was great preparation for the next stage of their careers.

We are reaching out to lapsed lawyers to ask them their personal stories. Why did you choose the law in the first place? Why did you leave? What are you up to now? Looking back at your time practicing law, how would you describe your experience? And so forth.

Are you an ex-lawyer? Please click here to take our survey and share your experiences. This survey is the first in a series of research projects in partnership with our friends at AdamSmithEsq, where the Lapsed Lawyer survey will also be hosted.

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 eighth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Alison Monahan demystifies the law school exam.

The secret to doing well on law school exams is actually pretty simple: Deconstruct what you’re being asked to do, and then relentlessly focus on learning how to do it well.

No problem, right? So why does law school have such a ferocious reputation?

Several reasons:

1. Everything’s graded on a curve. Even if you do well, someone else might do better. You’re competing against all of your very smart and accomplished classmates, not just displaying your personal knowledge.

2. The pedagogy is weird. Unlike most undergrad classes, law professors won’t spoon-feed you what you need to know. You essentially have to teach yourself, and what you discuss in class often bears little resemblance to what you’re expected to do on the exam.

3. You don’t get any practice. Most law school classes only have one exam, so you don’t get the chance to practice before game time. There’s a lot of pressure, and not everyone can handle it.

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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Around here, one can’t mention the concept of something being “overrated” without reference to one of the weirdest and most enduring ATL comment memes, a play on the late, great Hitch’s assertion that the four most overrated things in life are “champagne, lobster, anal sex, and picnics.” So who are the, um, lobsters of Biglaw?

Last week, we had a look at what our audience considered to be the most underrated Biglaw firms, by practice area. Today, inevitably, we turn it around and have a look at what you’re telling us are the most overrated firms.

Among other things, our ATL Insider Survey asks attorneys to nominate firms with overrated practices within the respondent’s own practice specialty. Litigators nominate litigation departments, etc.

To be sure, these survey results need to be taken with some buckets of salt — we realize that, for some, answering this question might be a chance to take an easy shot at a more successful rival or competitor. Of course, there are crazy people who will tell you that such paragons as Benjamin Franklin or Tom Brady are “overrated,” but that probably says more about the person making that statement than anything else. But that said, these survey responses are a fun glimpse at which firms Biglaw attorneys think are more sizzle than steak….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Biglaw’s Most Overrated Firms by Practice Area”

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