Career Advice

Let’s say that you started your law firm a year ago, and your business is finally humming along. Meaning that while you’re not taking home a six-figure income, you’re no longer terrified of not making rent.  But lately, you’ve noticed that you’re working more late nights and weekends than you’d like, just to keep pace with the steady influx of cases, law firm administration, and ongoing marketing efforts needed to feed the beast.  Or, perhaps you’ve let your marketing efforts (like networking events, lunches, and blogging) slide because you can’t fit them into your schedule — but you fear that you’ll pay the price later when business slows. Or maybe you wind up working after hours simply because you’re too distracted by client calls and emails during the workday.

Back in the day when I started out, most solos who found themselves in this situation would either (1) suck it up and work more or (2) hire a newbie lawyer, paralegal, or receptionist, even though they might not have the revenues to cover a full-time employee. And in an extreme situation, some overworked solos simply stop returning client phone calls or timely filing motions due to lack of time and got hit with bar grievances. Today, however, solos experiencing growing pains have far more options to manage workflow and help transition to the next level. I’ll explore some of those options, along with the respective pros and cons, in this post…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Katherine Hagman is a Director at Lateral Link where she places associates and partners throughout Chicago and the Midwest. She was a Corporate Recruiter in-house for one of Chicago’s fastest growing companies, and has several years of experience placing attorneys at Chicago law firms and companies. Katherine graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

“We’re hiring!” it says. While intrigued by the opportunity, you are not really sure if you should consider a job change at the moment. You are happy where you are and so it just doesn’t feel like the “right time.” After all, they are nice to me here. It’s not so bad. It’s probably not any better across the street. Then again, maybe it doesn’t hurt to look. You can’t decide what to do!

While it is good to trust your gut, there are concrete elements that are going to be very valuable for your career trajectory as an attorney. For the sake of this article, let’s assume you are happy in your job and that if you weren’t, you would work on fixing that or move on.

I’ve been working with lawyers on their careers for the past seven years and it can be hard to really put your finger on whether or not you’re at the right place. This can change over time and it’s more or less a moving target.

I’ve created this quiz to help you take the temperature of your current job and to help you see if you need to think about moving somewhere warmer. Keep reading below for a breakdown of each question…

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Keith Lee

I recently noticed a post by James Levy over at the Legal Skills Prof Blog about LexisNexis’s new “Think Like A Lawyer” program. The program aims to help law students be more prepared to work at a firm while they are summer associates. But as Levy points out:

“Apparently some employers have hired summer law clerks chiefly for the purpose of taking advantage of their free computer research access which until now has been a violation of the end user agreement.  But Lexis is changing that with the announcement this week of a new training program called ‘Think Like a Lawyer’ that, among other features, gives 1Ls and 2Ls free, unlimited access to computer research over the summer which they can use in their jobs.  That’s going to make it easier for at least some students to find summer clerkships especially with smaller firms where free Lexis access will add value.”

Firms using summer associates purely for free legal research?!? Say it ain’t so. But if that’s the case, just call it the “Free Legal Research Monkey” program and not “Think Like a Lawyer.” Because my knee-jerk reaction was: “Ugh, law school graduates actually need to think less like a lawyer….”

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It’s been a hell of a week for knowing what to wear.

Judge Richard Kopf blogged about “being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress,” weighing in on the latest debate about proper attire for women in law.

The story of Sunnie Kahle also emerged. (Gavel bang: Ann Althouse.) Sunnie is an eight-year-old Virginia girl whose grandparents reported to news media that Sunnie had been booted from her school for not being sufficiently girly. The story of a tomboy expelled for bucking hyper-conservative Christian notions of femininity set the internet ablaze with headlines like “Little Girl Taken Out of Christian School After Told She’s Too Much Like a Boy.”

In both of these stories, others are telling females how to look acceptably feminine. Judge Kopf instructs female lawyers not to appear overtly sexual. School officials instruct Sunnie not to appear overtly boyish. In each case, the powers that be seem to dictate the narrow swath between too-feminine and not-feminine-enough. Women and girls must be recognizably female while not spotlighting the sex traits that make them female.

That’s one gloss.

Here’s another. Let’s talk about sex and uniforms . . . .

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This column is designed to deal with all of the issues related to document review — and we’ve dealt with a bunch. Whether it is staffing agencies, fellow reviewers, or associates, there is no shortage of things to complain about when you are on the very bottom rung of the legal world. No one goes to law school thinking, “Oh, maybe one day I’ll get to be a document reviewer,” and that profound lack of satisfaction with their careers leads to a uniquely disgruntled set of workers.

All that is true, but sometimes there is reason to be disgruntled. In all my professional experiences, there is nothing quite as outrageous as the pure lies that are told to document reviewers. Sure, they may try to hide behind the inherent instability of the industry, but the thing that is really frustrating is the lies. Maybe you can never prove it as such . . . but they know, and you know, it is a blatant untruth.

As George Orwell once declared, “In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Thus, without further ado, I present the top four lies of document review:

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Too slutty, Your Honor?

Does what women wear to work matter? Of course it does, especially in a profession where looks are valued almost as highly as other qualities expected of a good lawyer, like exemplary analytical and interpersonal skills.

When we say “looks” here, we mean a lawyer’s ability to dress appropriately given the circumstances, but being attractive certainly doesn’t hurt. Men are basically given a free pass. So long as they don’t show up to court looking like they just rolled out of a dumpster, they’ll be given the respect they’re due.

Women, on the other hand, don’t have a uniform that they can wear to court like their male colleagues, and that’s where the trouble begins. Women lawyers have been told countless times to resist the urge to dress like harlots, with style suggestions ranging from the incredibly obvious (be wary of skirts too short and necklines too low) to the incredibly absurd (“think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe”).

The sick thing is that most of these style advisories have come from other women. Don’t follow trends? You look too frumpy. Follow too many trends? You look too skanky. A federal judge recently called attention to this perverse gender bias, but perhaps he could’ve used some more delicate language.

Calling all “ignorant sluts”…

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Christina Gagnier

The inevitable part of being a lawyer is that you need to work with other lawyers. If you thought you would be able to avoid this or have nightmares about law school classmates, then perhaps the practice of law that necessarily includes working with attorneys may not be for you.

As a small shop, it is important to evaluate how you work with other attorneys. Business is often referral-based and your reputation, which is gold if you are making your own way, will be based on how well you work with others. This does not mean being a doormat, but it does mean starting to understand how to build relationships or, in the least, be collegial with “opposing counsel.”

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Robert S. Mueller III

* Congratulations to WilmerHale on landing former FBI director Robert Mueller, and congratulations to Mueller on his move (a homecoming of sorts; he was once a partner at Hale & Dorr, the “Hale” in “WilmerHale”). [DealBook / New York Times]

* A former television judge gets held in real-life contempt. [Memphis Commercial Appeal]

* In the wake of the Dewey & LeBoeuf criminal charges, Jean O’Grady poses an interesting question: should law firms have whistleblower programs? [Dewey B Strategic]

* “Have a Better Legal Career by Being Less of a Lawyer.” [Medium]

* This story of losing a client might contain lessons for lawyers. [BigLawRebel]

* As we previously mentioned, the SCOTUS-themed play Arguendo is coming to D.C., and there’s a discount code for ATL readers: WMATL, good for 15% off on previews, Friday nights, Saturday matinees, and Sunday evenings. Enjoy! [Woolly Mammoth]

* In case you missed our Attorney@Blog conference, our friends at wireLawyer were on hand to document the proceedings. Video after the jump….

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Am I wrong to be suspicious?

I knew a defense lawyer whose online bio said that he had “spent more than a year of his life in trial.” But I also knew the facts: He had tried precisely one case in his life; it lasted more than a year; at the end of the year, the jury awarded more than the plaintiff demanded in closing argument.

Despite having spent “more than a year of his life in trial,” I’m not certain he was a proven trial lawyer.

Google the words “consummate trial lawyer” or “quintessential trial lawyer” or the like. (The actual bio may use a synonym to those superlatives; I’m concealing my victim here.) One bio will pop up from a guy who has, in fact, tried a few cases. But he lost them all. He hasn’t secured a defense verdict at a jury trial since the early 1980′s. (He did manage to reverse on appeal several of his trial-level defeats, but I’m not sure that’s too comforting to someone who’s looking to retain trial counsel.)

These examples, of course, come from the guys who are being honest: The words contained in their bios are technically true. I’m not even talking about the folks who brazenly lie.

Given the skepticism that puffery breeds, how can you write an online bio that actually persuades a reader?

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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, Joshua Stein gives some practical advice to lawyers on how to land their second job out of law school.

If and when you decide to leave your first job out of law school, finding your next job will differ in huge ways from the law school recruiting process. The search will give you all sorts of new opportunities to screw things up. This article, however, will arm you with some strategies for success. It starts from the assumption you want to move from one law firm to another. Many suggestions here also apply to other moves, but you will need to adjust them as appropriate.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

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