Career Advice

I’ve now written more than 250 columns at Above the Law; I’m invoking a point of personal privilege.

Neil Falconer (of Steinhart & Falconer in San Francisco) passed away last week at the age of 91. He was an extraordinary lawyer, a fine man, and a mentor to anyone who had the sense to listen. Between 1984 and 1989, I learned from Neil what it meant to be a lawyer – “be a sponge; soak up the law;” “never tell a small child not to stick peanuts up his nose;” “you take as long as necessary to solve the problem; let me worry about the bill” – and I later dedicated The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law to him. I expected to shed a tear when I read his obituary, but I didn’t expect to be dumbstruck. Words are a terribly feeble way to encapsulate a life. And sometimes you’re paid back, years later, for even the smallest of gestures. Here’s a link to Neil Falconer’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. Rest in peace, Neil. And thank you.

Thinking about Neil caused me to reflect on the decision that I made, 30 years ago, to work at a small firm (of 20 lawyers) on the West Coast.

Everyone told me that I was nuts: “You can always move laterally from a big firm to a small one, but you can’t move laterally in the other direction!” “You can always move from a big New York firm to a firm in California, but you can’t move west to east!” “You have to start by getting the ‘big firm experience.’ Then you can always move to a small firm.” “Go to a big firm! That’s how you keep your options open!”

The conventional wisdom isn’t always right . . . .

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Organize Dissent

Keith Lee

Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., famed chairman of General Motors in its heyday, has been attributed with saying the following at a top committee meeting:

“Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.” Everyone around the table nodded in assent.

“Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

If you are like many other young lawyers of today, you likely came up through an education system that encouraged teamwork and consensus building in which everyone’s opinion and input were valuable. Warm, encouraging environments that allowed students to discover who they are and develop their own meaning behind their education. Their minds, not something to discipline and develop, but rather soft sponges to hopefully absorb information through osmosis. That there wasn’t really a wrong answer, what mattered was how did you feel about the problem. Which is nice if you care about the feelings of children, but next to worthless in the practice of law…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Ed Wisneski is a Director with Lateral Link, a full-service, multinational legal recruiting firm. Ed’s practice focuses on: (1) working with law firm partners who wish to make successful lateral moves that are personally beneficial, maximizes their profitability and best meets the needs of their existing clients; (2) working with law firm associates who wish to make lateral moves that will enable them to meet their career goals; (3) working with top-level government attorneys who wish to make successful transitions into (or back to) private practice; and (4) working with corporate general counsel to attract and acquire top tier attorneys for important in-house positions. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Ed was a partner and an associate at Patton Boggs LLP, a premier international law firm. Over a 20 year career, Ed developed an ability to work closely with colleagues and clients to successfully navigate complex civil litigation matters. Ed strongly believes that his many years on the “inside” of a top law firm provided him with unique perspectives into the legal marketplace and what it takes to make a successful lateral move. Ed holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Delaware, and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, where he graduated cum laude.

If you are a partner in a medium to large law firm, part of your week involves fielding multiple calls from legal recruiters. I know this because for many years prior becoming a Director at Lateral Link, I was a partner at a large international law firm. Towards the end of my tenure, I would receive calls from as many as six legal recruiters in a week, each with an earnest promise that they would find me the perfect job.

Did I take every call? No. But I did take many. Why? Because in today’s highly competitive legal market, it makes sense to know your options.

In a sea of legal recruiters, how can you determine which recruiter is right for you? How can that recruiter help you make a prudent lateral move? How can that recruiter help you test your marketability without causing a distraction to your busy work schedule?

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One of the most common soft skills issues that comes up in every environment, whether work, home, or play, is how people deal with others’ negative perceptions or criticisms of them.

When we receive negative feedback from others, most of us go autopilot into some level of defensiveness. We’ll tend to find excuses for our behavior (“I was really overworked at that time,” “I was preoccupied by personal issues,” “That wasn’t my intent,” etc.). Or we’ll blame the other person (“She wasn’t paying attention,” “He’s always so closed-minded,” “She doesn’t get the big picture,” etc.).

Even if any of the explanations above are true, there are other ways of responding to criticism and negative feedback that can be lot more helpful….

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Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. Shannon will be writing about the journey from solo practice to a larger law firm.

Some time ago, I met with a consultant to discuss how I could improve and expand my solo practice. I told him my future goals: to be recognized as an expert in my areas of practice, make lots of money, and have free time for my personal life. He said I could accomplish these goals, but it would depend on how much time and effort I put in. He then told me that I would need to “invest” money in marketing, blogging, networking events, and joining various organizations. I would also need to make plans to upgrade my office and get a staff. Finally, he told me to pick a religion, because I’d be praying often.

But when I looked at the projected costs to accomplish my goals along with the non-guarantee of success, I hesitated. A flurry of questions went through my head: Who do I need to connect with and hire? What niches are marketable and enjoyable? When would I start to see a return on my investment? Where are my potential clients?  How many more networking events do I have to attend? Why am I doing this? Am I going to enjoy doing this? When I found myself asking that last question, I knew it was time to look at other options…

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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 discusses seven transferable skills that can give attorneys an advantage in the job market.

Some of us lawyers want to leave the law: We are unhappy and dissatisfied with our work situation. We suffer long hours. We find our day-to-day lawyer tasks mostly uninteresting. We are demotivated because we are not included in the partner track discussions. We feel we receive little-to-no mentoring. We are weighed down by high student loans.

And maybe most important, we feel that our professional skill set is not really in alignment with the duties and responsibilities required to be a lawyer. We are not fully confident that we can be a really good lawyer. It’s turning out that what we are good at doing and what we enjoy doing isn’t what an attorney does. We’re pretty sure that this lawyer gig is really not for us.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Ata Farhadi is a Director of associate, partner, and in-house recruiting at Lateral Link. He recruits for Am Law 200 firms, smaller boutiques, and corporations ranging from financial institutions to major entertainment and media outlets. As a Director at Lateral Link, Ata offers market analysis, resume advice, interview strategy and related services to attorneys across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ata is also a proud alumnus of Pembroke College, Oxford, and the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!) and is always happy to hear from alumni of either school.

…quite a lot, actually.

By now, you’ve probably read an article or two on the subject, and know that headhunters are third-party recruiters, tasked with the job of exploring the market to find the best attorneys willing to move for the best firms willing to hire. The very best headhunters aren’t in it to throw mud against the wall to see what sticks, but rather it is in the headhunter’s, the firm’s, and your own interest, to ensure that your transition goes as smoothly as possible, both before and after you are hired.

How exactly do headhunters help? Or, more to the point, how have we helped associates and partners like you? Here are some real-life examples from Lateral Link as proof that the best recruiters really can add value to your search…

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

The other day I had lunch with five colleagues, each of whom acts as the head of recruitment for a large New York law firm. Despite our best efforts, the discussion repeatedly returned to work and the immense pressure that we all have been feeling in the wake of the “economic adjustment.” Our jobs used to be (relatively) fun in the late 1990s. We fondly recalled the days when one of the greatest pressures that we faced was finding, at the last minute, extra Yankees tickets for an oversubscribed summer associate outing. Well, our roles have changed. Today our primary task is to find for our employers, time and time again, flawless candidates who have made no missteps in their careers.

During the discussion, I kept steering the conversation back to the topic that I address today. I wanted to share with readers the major pet peeves of recruitment staff members in the hope that you can benefit from such disclosures. In no particular order and with no malice:

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Today is the first day of April. You know what that means (besides April Fools’ Day jokes). It’s almost time for prospective law students, the future members of the class of 2017, to decide where they want to go to school.

Last month, the highly influential U.S. News law school rankings came out (and the Above the Law rankings are not far behind). There was a decent amount of movement among the schools this time around — and deans around the country went into spin mode, of course.

Also spinning: the heads of prospective law students. One of them, confused by the latest ups and downs in the rankings, reached out to us for advice on his choice….

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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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