Mentors

I thought now would be a good time to give a progress report on my job search. It’s been a little over five months since the race began, and I still have not reached the finish line. All of the jobs openings I applied to have been filled. By someone else.

Recently, I wrote an email to an attorney named Stephanie whom I have known for many years and think of as a role model. Since I have been feeling discouraged and cynical lately, I thought it would be best to be direct with her and not beat around the bush. I was curious what kind of response and advice she would have, if any.

Read onwards to read my email and her response…

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Astute Biglaw associates, and their fellow associates at boutiques and smaller firms, share an understanding with Tyrion Lannister. For those who don’t watch Game of Thrones, nor read the books upon which the popular series is based, Tyrion (played by the Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage) is the proverbial “second son,” whose father serves as the de facto ruler of the kingdom. His sister is the Queen Regent whose taste for wine matches only her disdain for her younger brother.

At this point in the series (spoiler alert — skip down two paragraphs if you are not up to date with the show), Tyrion stands on trial for alleged regicide. Rightfully skeptical of his chances of exoneration by the tribunal standing in judgment of him, Tyrion elects for “trial by combat” as a means of proving his innocence. While a smart choice, Tyrion is far from capable of physically defeating the literal “Mountain” man that his sister and accuser has selected to represent the “State” in Westeros v. Lannister. He needs a champion.

And he finds one, in the form of a visiting Prince who nurses a longstanding grudge against both Tyrion’s family members, and the man who will be his co-combatant — lucky for Tyrion, as his previous attempts to recruit others to stand as his champion had failed. When we see him at his moment of salvation, he is a desperate man, jailed, facing capital punishment at the hands of a blood-starved beast who disembowels malnourished slaves for sport. The appearance of a champion may not improve his situation all that much. But it gives him hope, and with hope comes the will to carry on.

Law firm associates may not have it quite as bad as Tyrion, but they share in common with him the need for a champion to secure their future….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Beyond Biglaw: A Champion Arises….”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Kristina Tsamis shares some career advice for JD/MBAs from a panel discussion hosted by Duke Law in conjunction with other peer law schools.

We spend a lot of time discussing the dismal employment outcomes for JD grads. Things aren’t so rosy for MBA graduates either. To talk about a dual JD/MBA degree in this context seems like a double fail — a one-two punch of more work and potentially more debt in exchange for the same sad outcome.

Enter the panelists of How to Use the JD/MBA Degree in Business and Entrepreneurship: all JD/MBA graduates who touted the usefulness of a dual degree during a discussion hosted by Duke Law in conjunction with other peer law schools. The panelists centered their advice on four main areas: what to focus on while pursuing the dual degree, how to select a good mentor, how to interview well, and how to stop being risk-averse.

1. Maintain the Right Focus as a JD/MBA student

That class in early English case law will leave you painfully ill-equipped for the modern practice of law. But there are some courses you should be paying attention to, both on the JD and MBA side.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sunny Choi interviews a fifth-year associate at a Biglaw firm who has some advice for summer associates.

If this is your 2L summer at a Biglaw firm, then you’re probably reveling in a copious number of three-hour lunches and nightly open bars, courtesy of the firm’s unofficial summer wallet. However, as a summer associate, this is also your time to make a lasting impression on the firm where you’ll most likely settle down for the next several years of your legal career.

I’ve conducted an unofficial interview with “Lady G,” a fifth-year associate at a certain Biglaw firm in Manhattan. She has kindly offered tips on how to be a stellar summer associate, based on her experience serving as an assignment coordinator for the summer associate program and working with summers in general.

How big is the summer associate program at your firm?

Pretty big, I would say 100+ associates divided into six teams. Each summer gets matched with an associate mentor and a partner mentor.

Could you describe your role as an assignment coordinator for your firm’s 2011 program?

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, some practical advice for finding a mentor from Desiree Moore of Greenhorn Legal.

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.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

In last week’s Moonlighting, we checked out what several general counsels and chief legal officers considered to be the worst aspects of their job. And all of us in junior positions and middle management cried a tear for them.

This week, we’re going to look at what those GCs and CLOs said are the absolute bestest things ever about being the head of a legal department. Dare to take a guess? Is it the fact that they’re compensated with tons of cash, stock options, and other sweet benefits as a member of the exclusive C Suite? Or that law firm partners are as attentive to them as valets are to earls and dukes on Downton Abbey? Or that the Red Sea parts whenever they raise a staff over it?

Apparently there are greater benefits to being a GC than any of those above. And this includes one that was listed in last week’s column as a reason you wouldn’t want to be the GC….

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Tom Wallerstein

I was grateful that Quinn Emanuel sent me to Los Angeles for a multi-week long, intensive trial advocacy training program. The instructors were incredible and the program overall was one of the most valuable training experiences of my career.

Some of the sessions featured practice drills followed by critiques from practicing attorneys. In one of the sessions, that “mentor” role was filled by a junior partner in a well-known firm. He had long, wavy hair and wore a tight silk shirt with the top several buttons open, exposing his chest hair and gold chains. His cologne should have been arrested for olfactory assault. If you think of a 1980s hair-metal band you will get the right idea.

Creepy-looking Mentor was constantly flipping his hair and paying far too much attention to the young, female associates. (He seemed to think it was particularly important to help them with their cross-examination posture, as he made a point of standing behind them and guiding them like a golf or tennis pro might do.)

Even though the program was only “practice” — cue Allen Iverson — there was a lot of pressure because many firm partners were there watching and, presumably, evaluating us. In this particular session, the associate doing a cross examination was very nervous, and visibly shaking. When the associate was finished, Mentor said he had a relevant war story he thought would be helpful to share, and did so….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: Behind the Curtain”

Young lawyers just starting out with their own practice usually tell me the type of work they’re doing is “whatever comes in the door.” Of course the pedigree Biglaw types criticize that type of practice, but probably don’t know that when the now dead founders of their firm started, they probably had a similar type of practice. They did real estate work, wrote a will, and maybe even (God forbid) found themselves defending a client in criminal court. At some point, they developed a practice and became known for a certain type of lawyering.

What I see today is lawyers doing any kind of work in order to eat, and lawyers who are lucky enough to have a niche, but are still taking cases in which they have no idea what they are doing. It’s like the lawyer whose niche is probate, but has never stepped foot in a probate litigation case, or the lawyer who handles misdemeanor cases taking on a complex white collar case because “it’s a good fee.”

Those of us who suffer through lawyer e-mail listservs see these lawyers all the time. “Has anyone filed a motion for ____________ who can send me a copy?” That same lawyer asks for multiple documents in a period of several weeks and then asks about procedure and whether anyone knows opposing counsel. They’ve never handled a case like this, and worse, have no idea what they are doing. They’ll never realize how pathetic they look to everyone else on the list, many of whom will have an opportunity to refer a case, and will remember not to send it to them.

There’s nothing wrong with learning, unless you are learning to the detriment of the client. There’s no doubt we’ve unknowingly been on an airplane with a pilot who is in the captain’s chair for the first time, but there’s also someone sitting to the right of him.

This post isn’t simply about asking for help, it’s also about determining whether the case is something you should take. When you’re starting out, or struggling, and someone comes in with more money than you received in the last three months, you’re all too eager to pretend you know how to handle the client’s case. You’ll just take the retainer and start typing away on the listserv, or fake it and hope you can figure it out. You also hope the client will never know that they’ve hired a lawyer that has no idea what to do.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take these cases; I’m saying you should protect your client, and yourself, in that order….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Practice: When It’s Not The Case For You”

It is that time of year when the treacle runs thick. Nostalgia can lead to the blues that can lead to a bout at P.J. Clarke’s that leads to a pounding head in the morning. Conversely, some of you are full bore into booking hours for end of year bonuses and have no time for such shenanigans. Then there are the lucky among us who are given money simply for having jobs — starting with Cravathians and the imitator firms. If you are one of those, good on you; there is no bitterness here — envy, perhaps — but not bitterness.

As I began to outline this week’s column I was alerted to some truly distressing news: Dave Brubeck has died at 91. If you had the pleasure, as I did, of hearing Mr. Brubeck in person, you were touched by the presence of an American treasure and true musical genius. Even if you’re not familiar with Brubeck’s music, his signature piece, “Take Five,” would likely be instantly recognizable. Brubeck was an inspiration for his artistry, yet was a self-effacing and quiet individual. When I was fortunate enough to see him perform, he ambled ever so slowly to the microphone to say a few words. One was concerned the man would topple over given the frail nature of his shuffling. After saying a few words, he’d shuffle back to his piano stool and the power of some greater being would generate through his fingers. He seemed like a man that you would wish for in a grandfather. Of course, news broke today that Charles Schulz had an ongoing affair, but I digress.

The point is that there are some folks who just exist on a different plane from the rest of us, and whom, for better or worse, we treat as heroes. The same can be said of several attorneys in my career. I am certain that each reader could submit their own list of attorneys who have mentored, assisted, helped up, or just been there for us as young bucks as we made our way through the profession….

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Mentoring has its benefits. It’s been shown to increase productivity, retention, and job satisfaction. According to one article, individuals who have had mentors earned between $5,610 and $22,450 more annually than those who haven’t had mentors. Multiply that by 30 years, and based on my lightning-speed calculations, that’s… ummm… a LOT of extra income. Those numbers are from several years ago, so my guess is that the riches we could be rolling in are even greater now, assuming that mentoring programs have become more sophisticated over the years.

Despite the purported benefits of mentoring, many people who’ve participated in mentoring programs just aren’t fans. I’ve been forced to volunteered to participate in a few different mentoring programs through work and various bar associations, and have had varying degrees of success. Generally, for the mentoring relationships that have been less successful, it’s been difficult to connect with the other person — we didn’t meet very often or when we did meet, the conversations were kind of strained (picture awkward pauses, sitting in silence, and blinking at each other for ten hours, that sort of thing).

How about the ones that were more successful…?

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