Career Advice

Keith Lee

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

— Aristotle

The trick is not holding other people accountable, but holding yourself accountable. It’s the central starting point of developing an appropriate professional mindset — recognizing that you are personally responsible for your actions and results (or lack thereof) delivered to clients.

You must strive to do the best you can in all situations. While it will make a difference in the quality of the work you produce, more importantly it makes a difference in you. Pushing yourself to deliver better work, better services, and better solutions will allow you to self-create new challenges and excitement in your job. It will help keep monotony and routine at bay.

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Keith Lee

There is an old story that tells the tale of three stonemasons. A stranger walks up and asks the stonemasons what they are doing. The first stonemason pauses and says, “I’m making a living.” The second stonemason replies, “I am making the best stone work in the country.” The third stonemason stands up with a distant look in his eyes and says, “I am making a cathedral.”

The first stonemason is a worker bee. He is there to collect a paycheck, nothing more. It is unlikely he will ever find success without someone else’s direction — if he ever finds it at all. A low-level associate. Or doc reviewer. A emp worker. The second stonemason is a craftsman for sure, but lacking in the big picture of what he is doing. An associate. Perhaps a partner someday. The third stonemason is the man who understands the ultimate goal of what their enterprise is all about. He is the senior partner. The one who has clients. One with the will and drive to start his own firm….

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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, Casey Berman gives some advice to unhappy attorneys.

For so long, we were normal. Ever since we could remember, we got good grades. We did well at our extracurricular activities. We had energy, independence, ambition, goals.

We happily did what we were told. We pleased most everyone. We were liked. We moved through life at a nice clip. We had a plan.

And now as practicing attorneys … well … this isn’t always the case. Just like that, we’re kind of now the odd ones out.

We’re not ourselves. Our confidence as an attorney, and as a person, is lacking. Our direction seems off. Our sense of hope is not strong. We may even feel desperate. We’re down.

We’re going a little crazy.

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, Ann K. Levine, a law school admission consultant and owner of LawSchoolExpert.com, offers helpful tips on how to approach law school.

There is a lot of information right here on ATL that would dissuade most people from applying to law school. But, since readers keep coming back to read these posts year after year and month after month, I have a hunch that there are a lot of you insisting on going ahead and applying to law school anyway. In which case, for those individuals, I want to share some insights about the right way to approach law school and the law school application process.

Articulate Your Reason & Goal

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

Keith Lee

Last week I wrote about the times when you experience loss in your career. It is a thing that everyone will face at some point. I touched on how to set aside and move on from these losses in order to continue on with your day, serving your clients, and doing your job.

But lawyers often let themselves get wrapped up in their jobs, letting them define who they are. When you are at work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week and a few hours on the weekend, your job can come to define who you are whether you want it to or not.

You have to push back….

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We are very service-oriented here at Above the Law. Given the depressing realities of the legal job market, one service we provide is alerting our readers to job opportunities.

We recently reminded our readers about the deadlines for various federal-government honors programs (including but not limited to the DOJ Honors Program). In case you missed those deadlines, though, here’s another option for entering government service….

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Since I began my job search, I have read many books and articles on how to find a job. Most of them gave the usual tried and true advice — meet people and learn new skills — with some variation. And to prove their points, they include cool and heartwarming anecdotal stories.

But I have also been given awful job search tips. They typically revolve around a story about someone who uses a gimmick to get the attention of an employer. One thing leads to another and the applicant is hired over the many others who had better grades and work experience. The success story is passed off as advice because it worked in his particular case in very unusual conditions.

After the jump, I will discuss some of the worst job advice I have been given.

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At this stage of my career, I am pretty removed from the Biglaw associate recruiting scene. So I don’t know if firms have finished hiring their summer associates for summer 2015, or whether current 2Ls are evaluating offers and deciding which firm to join. While I was in Biglaw, I was very involved in supporting the recruiting department’s efforts, whether it was serving as a summer associate mentor or interviewing lateral candidates. So I know how seriously the process is taken by both Biglaw firms and the candidates.

As serious a business as recruiting is, however, it is often difficult for students and lateral candidates to distinguish between firms. Sure, enterprising law students and associates can study PPP or “prestige” charts in the American Lawyer or on Vault, or even take advantage of the vastly improved research tools for associates on sites like this one (including ATL’s law firm directory). Even more enterprising candidates will take advantage of their networks to solicit “real-world” feedback about the associate experience at firms from current and former employees of those firms. In sum, there is plenty of information, both collected and anecdotal, for young lawyers to consider when they are lucky and accomplished enough to have earned the right to choose between Biglaw firms vying for their services.

It is great that all this information is now available. But I think what younger lawyers would benefit from most is direction as to what information is worthy of focusing on, especially when making critical career decisions.

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Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.

I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own first novel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.

Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.

Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.

Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.

From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.

Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)

In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?

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