Career Advice

Tom Wallerstein

For attorneys starting their own firms, one of the more difficult things to learn is how much time to spend on a prospective client. Attorneys take various approaches. Some attorneys say, reasonably enough, I don’t work for free, and will do little more than quote their rates. Attorneys who employ mass marketing will offer a “free consultation,” but that generally amounts to little more than a way to encourage unsophisticated clients to call them as opposed to someone else.

If your business model depends on high volume of a particular type of case, it probably doesn’t make sense to devote too much effort to soliciting any one particular client. But if you are pursuing fewer, higher-stakes or more complex matters, then you very well could struggle with how to strike the proper balance….

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At law firms, you only occasionally hear people criticizing lawyers for not “being proactive.” Maybe that’s the nature of the beast: When you’re a litigator at a firm, you’re always considering what moves to make, anticipating the other side’s responses, and planning several moves ahead. Being proactive is the name of the game.

But I often hear in-house lawyers either being criticized (or criticizing others) for not being sufficiently proactive. How can you prove to the world that you’re proactive?

There are two parts to this puzzle: First, you can create the illusion of proactivity. This takes no effort at all, and it will impress people. Do it! Second, you could actually be proactive. This takes a little effort; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the game is worth the candle. But at least consider being proactive; you might enjoy it, and it might be good for your career . . . .

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* A great, great piece by Kashmir Hill on what happens to your Facebook data when you are suspected of murder. [Not So Private Parts / Forbes]

* So now the Tulsa law dean is making it sound like the babysitting gig was just one of the many heroic efforts Tulsa undertakes to make sure students can make ends meet while in law school. This from a school that charges $32,056 per year plus another $7,993 for room and board for the privilege of attending the #99 law school in the land. Oh, but presenting babysitting opportunities is a way that the administration can help. [TU College of Law Blog]

* This is how 90% of my conversations go when somebody asks me if they should go to law school. The other 10% end in fisticuffs and comfort eating. [Constitutional Daily]

* If a law professor uses a hypo this fall based on 50 Shades of Grey (affiliate link), please whip it out (your camera phone) and give us a load (of that hilarious video). [Law Librarian Blog]

* Apple and Samsung: they kind of need each other to bring balance to the force. And don’t forget to check out Chris Danzig’s Twitter feed for more trial updates. [iDownloadBlog]

* What does one Jones Day hiring partner think interviewees should never do at lunch? Check out his interview on Bloomberg Law below…

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I want you to digest that headline for a moment. This weekend, a rising 2L is going to share his “system” for succeeding in law school, a system he honed — for a whole year — at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. The kid is trying to charge people money to attend his seminar.

Oh, but he was really good at law school. He was able to transfer out of TJLS to George Washington University Law School. He starts there in this fall. Success!

Actually, let me give you the full, prestigious biography he posted to Top Law Schools. We’ve also got video footage of the guy, providing “The 21st Century Approach” to succeeding in law school.

That approach, by the way, doesn’t involve books…

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I have Irish Alzheimer’s; I forget everything but my grudges. As I read about the latest round of bar study and exams, I think back on my job interviews over the years. I cannot shake the remembrances of some of my more outstanding successes and failures.

There was the major domo partner at an unnamed firm (located in the Battery which had a really salacious sex harassment fiasco some time ago) who looked at the title of my journal piece and stated, “You know, there’s no such word as ‘normalization.’” Now, I could have informed this pompous ass that maybe in the Kissinger era there was no such word, but, I wanted a gig. So, I put the tail between my legs and meekly said that I would have to look into that.

There was an associate from a since disappointingly merged firm from Midtown who “took a call” during our OCI, hung up, and informed me that he’d just closed a multi-million dollar deal. I was totally unprepared for dealing with such a tool, but again, I wanted a gig. So, I said something to the effect of “congratulations.”

Finally, there was the bow-tie wearing fop with shoulder length hair from the firm with four names, who cradled his fingers under his dimpled chin, shook his mane and said, “Why would XXXX want to hire you?” Unprepared to deal with such an insipid question, I came up with an equally insipid answer.

And just so I don’t let the in-house interviewers off the hook, there were some real winners in my last search. Since I am heavily involved in the ACC and other ventures, however, it’s best not to describe anecdotes. Let’s just say that, contrary to the viral videos, it does not “always get better”…

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Last month, a group named Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) announced a study in which they identified eight qualities of successful legal executives. The study found that these accomplished folks exhibited greater levels of certain traits compared to your average Executive Joe Schmoe, Esq. The results, while informative, weren’t all that surprising. (It’s cool how hindsight works that way.) There were two traits, however, that RRA zeroed in on in their write-up of the study.

One was “excitability.” Successful legal executives got frazzled about 20% less than the average legal executive and even than the average non-legal executive. The gap in excitability was even wider between Successful GC and Not-Successful GC. So all of you lawyers who have a tendency to hyperventilate over every little fire drill can do yourselves a favor and think calm thoughts when you find that your prized pen has been moved from the right side of your desk to the left.

The other trait that RRA considered noteworthy is one they referred to as “mischievousness.” Their evaluation of mischievousness, however, is really just a brilliant scam….

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All across the country, law students and law firms are gearing up for on-campus interviewing. If you are seeking to advance your legal career or trying to figure out where to work, check out Above the Law’s new Career Center, which contains a wealth of resources to help you with your job search.

On Friday, we pointed you to our brand-new ATL Law Firm Directory. The Directory contains ratings for over 70 law firms, based on responses from over 6,000 attorneys. Our individual firm profiles break down the employers using a number of metrics, and based on your surveys we’ve been able to give each of the firms a letter grade (curved around a “B,” which should be familiar to most law grads). The profiles are dynamic, reflecting both publicly available information and user responses, so if you feel like your firm is getting an unwarranted grade, the profile page will lead you right to the survey, where you can tell us what you think.

We’re also interested in hearing about how the summer associate experience has been this year. We invite you to take our summer associate survey.

Over the weeks and months ahead, we will be adding new components and resources to the Career Center. Today we are going live with our Law Students section. This page provides advice and articles about job hunting, academics, and clerkships, as well as access to our law firm profiles. Some of the content provided by our five partners — The Girl’s Guide to Law School, Legal Writing Pro, Lateral Link, JD Match, and Leopard Solutions — is available only on the Career Center, so check it out.

Our effort to expand the career-related resources for our readers is just getting started. We’ll soon be launching a page dedicated to lawyers in the lateral market, as well as resources for those in other career paths outside of Biglaw. As more people fill out surveys, we’ll be able to construct profiles for more firms. And yes, eventually we will have letter grades for law schools as well as law firms — and that won’t be controversial at all!

The Career Center will grow and evolve over time, and we welcome your suggestions for adding to and improving it. If you have recommendations, questions, or concerns, you can reach the Career Center team by email: careers@abovethelaw.com.

It’s an exciting time here at Above the Law, and we hope you’ll take advantage of these new offerings. In today’s fast-moving and challenging world, information is king — and we want you to have access to all of it.

Law Student Career Center [Above the Law Career Center]
Law Firm Directory [Above the Law Career Center]

Lately, it seems that all of the regular legal media outlets have turned an eye toward women and their success in the profession. For example, earlier this week, we discussed whether women will ever be able to close the gender gap in Biglaw equity partnership ranks. Now, we’re faced with another “important” question: can older career women sport longer hairstyles?

According to some, such a look isn’t considered age-appropriate for the office. In fact, you could end up looking “rather sad and dated,” which may have an impact on your legal career. But then again, the National Law Journal’s survey on women who make partner didn’t include a question about the length of partnership candidates’ hair. Because at the end of the day, who cares? If a woman is great at her job, then the length of her hair shouldn’t matter.

Why can’t older women be successful and feminine at the same time?

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We’ve done some hiring recently, and people seem to have three types of résumés.

Some résumés start with an “Executive Summary” that consists largely of the applicant explaining that the applicant believes that he (or she) is a great guy (or gal). I’m not quite sure how that distinguishes the applicant from the seven billion other folks who share this planet with us:

“A fast-paced, fast-track, high-falutin’ individual with exceptional interpersonal, communication, and persuasive skills, as well as boyish good looks and a toothy grin; who leads by example and coaches and develops others to deliver high performance; blah, blah, blah.”

To my eye, this is “telling, not showing.” You think you’re great? Wonderful. But, other than your own say-so, is there anything about you that might objectively indicate that you’re correct? Have you ever, for example, achieved something that’s worth talking about? If so, perhaps your résumé should find an excuse to lead with that.

Other résumés also start with an “Executive Summary,” but of a different type . . .

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There have lately been a flurry of articles, blog columns, and opinions strewn about whether a woman can have a baby and run a corporation. Filtered down to a finer point, especially relevant to this site, is whether lawyers can have it all. The answer, in my opinion, is no. A distilled or altered sense of “all” perhaps, but truly having it all, where you commit fully to your work and home life? Not so much. And to commit the foul of using lawyer “weasel words” — it depends.

When I am asked for advice from folks who read this column, or others practicing law or about to, I usually begin by assessing where that person is in life….

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