Career Advice

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…

Keith Lee

An easy and lazy habit that you can have as a lawyer is only seeing things from the perspective of a lawyer. Lawyers are trained to deconstruct problems and look for weakness, to approach situations with a critical perspective. But that does not mean that it is the only perspective that you need to have. One of the most voiced complaints from clients is that their lawyer doesn’t understand their view or their perspective on a case or matter.

This is likely due to a breakdown of communication between the lawyer and the client, and more than likely it is the lawyer’s fault. As a lawyer, it is very easy to fall into entrenched patterns and lines of thought — so easy that it is often difficult to step back from your role as a lawyer, and look at a case or a problem as a layperson or client. Harvard professor Theodore Levitt most aptly summed up this problem with his famous observation: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

A lawyer is often apt to think of the law as the drill — how to use it, apply it, and make it work in any particular situation. But a client does not really care about the law, they care about the solution to their problem — the quarter-inch hole…

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Turnabout.

I recently wrote about how to demoralize, discourage, and disenchant top talent. This is about how to retain that talent. Like the prior column, this one is based on one of the top columns of the year from Strategy + Business, the Booz & Co. publication: Retaining Top Talent: Yes, It Really Is All About Them.

Prefatory clarification: What follows isn’t addressed to your inner circle of key leaders, or to the Super Rainmakers, all of whom you presumably know intimately, and with whom you talk about what follows all the time, in ways tailored to each individual. Rather, what follows is addressed to how you deal with all the talent that’s not at the tippy-top of your firm already.

Here’s how the Strategy + Business piece starts:

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A few months back at my home blog, MyShingle, I wrote about a small Michigan law firm that sued a legal marketing company for fraud and RICO violations, alleging that the company created a “bogus Internet marketing program, supposedly designed for small law firms and sole practitioners” and duped firms into participating in the program through a series of misrepresentations about the company’s ability to boost law firms’ Google rankings. The lawsuit is still pending in federal district court in Arizona (Docket No. 2:13-cv-01502).

Though few expressed sympathy for the firm, suggesting that it was greedy or foolish to fall for the marketing company’s “infomercial-like” sales pitch, in my view the lawsuit raised a valid question: Should law firm marketers, practice management advisers, and other vendors pitching services to improve law firm performance remain accountable, at least to some degree, for the results?

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Key to writing a self-help piece? Pictures of bland smiling people.

Self-help books are amazing. So simple, so pedantic, so lucrative. If I could muster enough “human compassion,” I’d get in on that action. But, as is I’ll have to stick with mocking dumb lawyers online. It’s a living.

A self-help book for lawyers is out and boasts some advantages for lawyers choosing to live a “wellness” lifestyle.

If you’re wondering what “wellness” means, it’s kind of a catch-all pop psych term for “not being a f**kup.” Glad I could help out….

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What’s the key to good writing?

It turns out that it’s also the key to giving great speeches.

And to making great pitches for new business.

And to impressing clients, and your boss, and anyone else who matters to you.

Now that I think about it, it’s not a bad guide to planning your business development activities, ginning up theses for your articles, and plotting your blog posts. It would be a great way to design your firm’s website, too.

Eureka! The key to all professional success on earth!

And, of course, it’s just common sense . . . .

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