Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Rob Jordan gives advice to attorneys on how to best position themselves to clarify or confirm their career path.
“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of some ladder you don’t, right?” — Dave Eggers, The Circle (affiliate link)
Everyday, many lawyers sit unhappily in their offices with little clarity about their professional futures. I know: I was one of them.
Today, the continued weakness and real-time evolution of the business of law merely compounds the uncertainty. In this environment, it is critical that lawyers regularly perform self-reviews to assess contentment and career trajectory.
These reviews will obviously be very personal. Some lawyers may simply conclude that their unease stems from the plain practice of law; that their law degree is a sunk cost; and that every day spent practicing law rather than pursuing a career acting, rapping, or starting a company is opportunity cost. Others, however, may not be fortunate enough to arrive at such a definitive conclusion; rather, they may be stuck in a state of inertia, unclear whether they like or want to continue to practice law.
There is a great deal of value to be found in finding a successful mentor — someone who is looking out for you and advocating for your success. Without my mentor in the early years of my legal career I would have been lost in the substantive, technical, and interpersonal aspects of my law firm practice. The right mentor can change everything.
When choosing your mentor, keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Choose Someone Internal
Your mentor should be someone internal (and not your uncle who is a lawyer in the Cayman Islands). Your mentor should be in a position to help you decipher and navigate your specific office dynamics.
In the world of sports, the figure of coach has taken on near-mythological status. Some coaches — such as the late Joe Paterno, before his fall from grace — are treated like gods, due to their legendary leadership and inspiration abilities.
What about in the world of Biglaw? Well, it’s catching on there too. An increasing number of law firms are making career coaches, including on-site coaches, available to their attorneys.
What’s behind this trend? And is it one worth celebrating? We share some survey results, as well as comments from a former associate who worked with a career coach….
Here at Above the Law, we write all the time about crappy law job postings. A good deal of these awful employment listings come from law school career services offices (which is not at allimpressive!).
We recently received word about a law school career services job posting that was so horrendous, so ridiculous, that we could not help ourselves but to write about it. After all, writing about crappy law jobs is like opening a can of Pringles: once you pop, you can’t stop.
And this job — well, let’s just say that it takes the cake, or the potato chip, as the case may be….
I posted last week about the idea of providing training intended to give lawyers wings — to teach lawyers the skills, and give them the experiences, they need to leave their firm or corporation and move forward on a career path elsewhere. If you thought that was a good idea — if you thought that your firm or corporation might benefit by being known as the place that trained people to become great lawyers — how would your firm pursue that goal?
I actually saw this happen once: I saw a lawyer design a training program to permit him to perform adequately in another job. But the situation was a bit unusual. A heavy-hitting litigation partner at my former firm accepted a job as the general counsel of a large corporation. That guy realized that a litigator’s training has gaps; litigators know the rules of procedure and the substantive law governing cases that they’ve handled, but litigators may be ill-equipped to become general counsel. A litigator is likely to know very little about preparing securities filings, negotiating M&A transactions, advising boards of directors about non-litigation matters, and the like.
My former partner created for himself what I’ll call “General Counsel University.” He asked a bunch of our partners to set aside a half day each to give him a primer about their areas of expertise. He spent time chatting with an employment lawyer about the basics of executive compensation. He spent a half day with a public company securities lawyer, trying to learn the nuts and bolts of securities filings. He talked to M&A lawyers, spent a few minutes with the corporate tax folks, and so on. (Why was he able to do this, you ask? First, he was a heavy-hitter; people were willing to make time for him. Second, he was about to become the general counsel of what could be a very significant client; it made sense to be nice to the guy.)
It’s easy to describe the career path for a junior lawyer at a law firm (even though the path may be illusory for many): Work hard and well and become a partner; work harder and better and become a richer and more powerful partner. Retire. Die.
So long as law firms are growing, that path appears to be available to some percentage of junior lawyers, and all can strive to follow it.
Corporations are different. There’s one general counsel, who probably has six or eight people reporting to her. Unless the general counsel moves on, retires, or dies, none of the lieutenants is moving up. The lieutenants in turn all have six or eight people reporting to them. Unless a lieutenant moves on, retires, or dies, none of the sub-lieutenants is moving up.
What can you do to create a career path for someone who reports to you in a corporation (other than eating poorly and exercising little, which might create an unexpected opening in the ranks)?
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.