Career Advice

Rain on the Elysian plain?

Am I really mixing Homer and Lerner?

I am. (Hey, no one forces you to read this stuff.)

But to what end do I mix apples and wheelbarrows?

I live on the Elysian plain of in-house life: Freed of the demands of generating business; able to foist tedium off on the sad sacks who work at law firms; thinking strategically about the most significant issues facing the company; permitted (indeed, required) to work closely with a business. “‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

But there are occasional drawbacks to working in-house, and I try to share those with the world when I notice them. Three recently came to my attention. . . .

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Keith Lee

Everyone is familiar with the saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression. We size people up at a glance. People like to think that they take time to adequately weigh decisions, but in reality we often rely on “thin-slicing,” as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (affiliate link):

“Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious mind to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. The unconscious works by sifting through the situation in front of you, parsing out irrelevant data and homing in on what really matters.”

What this means is that we are constantly making micro-decisions at a subconscious level about the world around us all the time. Now, that doesn’t mean we are always making good decisions or judgments, but we are making them. Which is why lawyers need to care about how they appear — in person and in print.

And from a filed Answer in a lawsuit that a reader sent me, it’s a lesson that one lawyer needs to learn….

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

Here’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm — followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.

Here we go…

Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.

People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy — enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.

Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm — and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.

By way of a reply, I opined: “Your experience might be considered atypical.”

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I’ve recently realized I do a lot of complaining. Maybe it’s hard not to. This column has given me a terrific forum to… well, complain about a lot of the things I think are wrong in the world of document review. Maybe it’s a screed about horrible bosses or how the reviewer next to me seems allergic to using tissues. I regret nothing.

Venting and getting it all out there has been cathartic and the response from you the readers has been vindicating. But, I am trying to be a little more zen about the legal profession and my small role in it.

It’s an imperfect science, and I am still working on it, but here are some tips for loving doc review….

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Where The Wild Things Are (affiliate link)

Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.

But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.

Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….

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Have you ever wondered how that moronic judge managed to scale the judiciary to plop on the bench? Or perhaps you’re eyeing a judicial career yourself and just want to know how to get started down that long path. Or perhaps you just want to see a non-legal website try — and fail — to provide a helpful career guide for prospective jurists.

If you’re looking to be the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this is not the guide for you…

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When I started my law firm twenty years ago, there were just five things that I knew.

I knew I didn’t have any clients. I knew that my husband and I could scarcely afford the loss of my paycheck, let alone come up capital for me to invest in my practice. I knew that I was way too mortified at having been laid off from my former firm to share the real reason for starting my own firm.  I knew that when I finally opened for business, in truth, I was just putting on a game face every day, biding my time until something else came along or until I got pregnant and could, like some of my other law school classmates, gracefully exit the law.  But I also knew, somewhere deep down, that I had it in me to be a good lawyer.

Those five things are all that I knew for sure when I started my law firm. Clearly I had a lot to learn.  And while there was plenty of information on the black-letter, nuts-and-bolts aspects of starting a firm, the kind of advice that I really wanted to know to jump-start my practice — specifically, whether the solo option was actually feasible — was in short supply.  Moreover, as an attorney with a traditionally big-firm practice (energy regulatory law and litigation), I was even worse off because attorneys familiar with my field and doing what I hoped to were particularly rare.

So to spare those of you starting out from what I went through, here are five things that I wish someone would have told me when I started out:

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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, Alison Monahan provides some practical advice for the new year.

It’s January, so we must reflect and resolve, right? Well, I’ve never been one for resolutions (just do it, don’t talk about it), but the beginning of a new year is a good time to examine recent history and identify “areas of potential growth,” shall we call them.

When I think about what I’ve been most surprised about in the 2+ years since I started The Girl’s Guide to Law School, one key thing stands out: The remarkable lack of urgency that many law students and young lawyers seem to feel about shaping their lives and their careers.

Before you get all offended, let me be clear. I’m not saying you’re lazy. I’m not saying you don’t spend a lot of time studying in the library. But — and I have to be honest here — there is an odd lack of gumption, of hustle, that permeates many of the interactions I have with law students and new lawyers.

A few examples…

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

It’s been viewed online nearly 7 million times. Sheryl Sandberg calls it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley. And it was created by the company whose stock increased in 2013 more than any other’s in the S&P 500—up nearly 350%.

“It” is a 126-slide PowerPoint called “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility,” and it outlines Netflix’s approach to just that—culture—although it has primarily been interpreted as a “reinvention” of HR, as this Harvard Business Review article puts it.

Going through the entire PowerPoint (I have) is valuable in and of itself; if nothing else, you’ll see how very well done PowerPoints can be, for a change. But the HBR article, written by the former head of HR at Netflix itself, distills their approach to talent into five tenets based on two key insights into how people actually feel about performing their jobs…

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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, Kate Neville, founder of Neville Career Consulting, offers helpful tips for law school graduates who would like to expand their career options. This is the second part of a series. Read the first three steps to moving forward from the law here.

4. Pose a hypothesis

The threshold to networking effectively is being able to professionally and concisely answer the question, “So, what are you interested in? What type of work are you looking for?” You do not want to communicate uncertainty to people who could be in a position to help you (“I don’t know. I didn’t like y, but I’ve thought about z.”) or appear desperate (“I hate my job. I just need a change.”). Any interest the person may have had in helping you is waning already. Put yourself in their position: you have to give them something to respond to.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

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