Career Advice

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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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Kate McGuinness writes about the different “selves” all lawyers can find within throughout their careers.

I have several different selves rattling around inside. No, I’m not suggesting multiple personality disorder. I’m alluding to the varied interests and aptitudes that have led to different careers over time.

My nurturing, playful self became an elementary school teacher. She was followed by the brainy, kick-ass self who became a lawyer. Then the creative, reclusive self came forward to write my legal thriller Terminal Ambition (affiliate link). Now the compassionate, wise self is stepping up as a coach to guide clients through growth and change.

Just as Harry Potter discovered that he had a “good self” and a “bad self,” each of us has many selves.

A lawyer may be hiding a self who longs for deeper connection with others and a helping role as a therapist as well as another self who longs to be an academic and another self who longs to be a chef.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Professor Joseph Marino of Marino Legal Academy, who will be writing a bimonthly column about law school and legal education.

Your first year classroom experience is not all that different from the classroom scenes in the well known 1973 movie, The Paper Chase.

“Look to the left, look to your right. Because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.” It sounds like an urban legend, but it’s not that far off from reality. According to the ABA, roughly 5,000 1Ls across the country will not come back for their second year of law school.

By now you should be familiar with case briefing and the Socratic method, the decades-long dominant pedagogical approaches for teaching first-year students. It is dramatically different from the days of rolling out of bed after a night out partying and acing the exam that you were used to in college. Unlike college and high school classes where your professor taught you the subject area, in law school you have to take responsibility for your own education….

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I thought now would be a good time to give a progress report on my job search. It’s been a little over five months since the race began, and I still have not reached the finish line. All of the jobs openings I applied to have been filled. By someone else.

Recently, I wrote an email to an attorney named Stephanie whom I have known for many years and think of as a role model. Since I have been feeling discouraged and cynical lately, I thought it would be best to be direct with her and not beat around the bush. I was curious what kind of response and advice she would have, if any.

Read onwards to read my email and her response…

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You may have heard about a behavioral science experiment involving monkeys and a ladder with a banana at the top of the ladder. When one monkey would try to climb the ladder to reach the banana, the researchers would spray all of the monkeys with a hose. After a while, when a monkey tried to go towards the ladder, the others would stop him so that they wouldn’t get hosed. The researchers then switched out one of the monkeys with a new monkey who didn’t know about the hose. When he would go towards the ladder, just as before, the others would stop him. The swapping continued, and the new monkeys would join in stopping newer monkeys from going towards the ladder, not knowing about the hose treatment, but learning from the example of the original monkeys that going towards the ladder is bad. The researchers eventually swapped out all of the monkeys so that none of the original monkeys were together, but all of the new monkeys would try to stop each other from going towards the ladder.

There is some debate online as to the origins of that experiment, or whether it ever happened, so I’ll just call it the “parable of the monkeys who just do what everyone else does without understanding why” — or, for short, “the parable of the associate.” If you work in a law firm, you probably recognize the above fact pattern and can analogize it to your colleagues.

I’ve come across a bunch of lawyers since I started my legal career ten years ago. Some of them were really good, some were really bad, and most of them were just somewhere in the spectrum of not being memorable. The lawyers who were bad were all bad for about a thousand different reasons, but the lawyers who were good, almost always shared one quality: they were outside-the-box thinkers….

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I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.

Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.

Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.

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It’s not all doom and gloom in the Back In The Race series. Despite getting ignored or getting countless rejection letters from law firms big and small, I like to have a little fun with my job search. So today, I will share my experience at an interview with a firm I had no interest in working for. Thanks to Above The Law’s generous contributor compensation plan, retirement benefits and student loan repayment assistance program, I can afford to be slightly more picky when it comes to choosing employers.

Over the weekend, a recruiter asked if I would be interested in meeting with a local solo practitioner who seeks to hire an associate. After learning a little bit about her and her area of practice, I knew it wasn’t going to work between us. But I decided to go to this interview anyway just so I could play the role of the demanding, entitled special snowflake and see her reaction.

So let’s find out who the lucky solo is and see how it all went…

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