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  I love lawyers.

I am a lawyer. I am married to a lawyer. I am the friend of hundreds of lawyers and hold thousands more in great regard. If you're a lawyer (or love them), welcome. I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas in this space.

What Helen Keller Can Teach Us All

HelenKellerI recently reread Helen Keller’s “The Story of My Life,” which is enlightening and inspiring to me in my role of helping lawyers and their businesses work more productively and earn more income. In particular, I found Ms. Keller’s learning challenges fascinating, for the lessons it offers attorneys in their own learning experiences.

For starters, the most important asset I noticed for Helen was that throughout her life she was surrounded by people who absolutely believed in her: that she could do things that previously seemed out of her reach. These people had faith in her ability to work things out because they saw how determined she was to learn about everything that came into her mind. Despite her handicaps of being both blind and deaf since the age of 19 months, Helen said she remembered understanding “a good deal of what was going on about [her].”

Helen’s ability to use words did not begin until the age of seven with her teacher Annie Sullivan, but way before that time, Helen’s parents (and eventually siblings) perceived her ability to participate in different aspects of family life — and they encouraged and included her. It was clear to anyone paying attention that Helen was interested in everything around her as she sought to touch, smell, and sense those things that came into her orbit.  In this way, she began to form habits that led to her becoming an integral and active part of her family’s life where she was even helpful in collecting eggs, picking fruit, and grinding spices.

So how do practicing lawyers progress with their legal and business skills and how does Helen Keller’s experience offer insight into these habits?

In my over thirty-five years of working with lawyers, I have noticed that those lawyers who progress most rapidly are those whose support systems include people who believe in them. It is highly encouraging to a young lawyer to have a more experienced lawyer (even in just a particular subject matter) trust them to perform a task that may seem out of reach – and then have faith that they can, in fact, complete that task.

At a recent holiday party given by a large law firm, I got to hear a mid-level associate give a heartfelt “thank you” to a partner with and for whom she had done much work.  Her greatest thanks was for this person’s encouragement of her, as a very junior lawyer, to trust her instincts. The partner saw that this ingénue was smart, had an instinctual ability to move a deal along, knew who to trust and who to be wary of, and on the whole, was almost always right.

In law practice it is essential to have good situational judgment because that is one of the greatest factors affecting how time is spent. Lawyers may need to learn certain technical skills bit by bit but we all have natural talents which thrive when recognized.  Some lawyers are excellent logical thinkers, some possess good verbal or written persuasive abilities, and others can envision compromise or encourage efficient working. But regardless of what skills young lawyers come in the door with, it is always advantageous to have these skills encouraged (and often challenged) by more experienced lawyers so that they can contribute more directly toward helping the enterprise.

Even before she learned how to talk, Helen was able to find wild Guinea Hen eggs. As she was encouraged to learn, so did her other capabilities grow, which led to our best example of what a blind and deaf individual could accomplish in her lifetime. It is from Helen’s example that we now can all learn to accept and use encouragement to refine our inherent skills and use them more productively in our work and in our lives.

Posted in Associates, Internal Firm Relations, Mentoring | Leave a comment

No Stupid Questions?

No Stupid Questions ACTUAL PHOTO 21574-20150917It is the season when fortunate law school graduates are settling into their first jobs.  This is when many of the best young lawyers start to realize how little they know about the actual practice of law.  Most wonder how much they should already know, and how much they can ask without looking stupid.  Once a new recruit has learned where the library is, who will give her assignments, and who her secretary is, the real ego issues begin.  Being lazy is a kind of stupid, but if you have done your legwork, my basic advice is check your ego at the door.

Associates often get assignments involving issues about which they know little or nothing. Begin by asking what the particular goal of the assigned work is: Find out if there are three questions or only one, when the assignment is due, and who (if anyone else) is working on the same issue. Law school graduates should at least know how to read carefully, how to understand what they do not know (what needs further investigation), and how to ask substantive questions.

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Posted in Associates, Career Strategy, Practice Habits, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Attitude Is A Career Builder

AttitudeHandshake01About a year ago, the legal recruiting market emerged from years of minimal hiring. Shrinking, not hiring, is how many firms got through the recession. Some firms did not survive. In the first part of 2014, law firms and corporations again started hiring, now with a view to growth.

Most encouraging, some placements in this renewed market are smaller optimistic ones. Both sides of such transactions will surely do better because of the hire, but the rewards are not required to be overwhelming. People are willing to take chances on something being great, if it will at least be good.

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Posted in Business Development, Compensation, Internal Firm Relations | Leave a comment

Try, Try Again: Likely Paths to Sooth A Broken Heart

Try, Try Again: Likely Paths to Sooth A Broken Heart PHOTOBringing in business as a lawyer has one general roadmap, but with many variations:

You come to understand a person or an enterprise, usually by reading or asking questions; you determine if you can help that person or enterprise with your legal skills; and if you can be of help, you try to get in front of the person or company to offer your help. The result of this is that sometimes you are given work, sometimes not.

Lawyers can flounder in the first two parts, in determining which clients would make sense for them. However, being turned down after making an attempt at forming a client relationship is what can break lawyers’ hearts. From my vantage point, I have seen how things can turn around after these so-called “defeats” so I encourage lawyers to understand that, losing once is not losing forever, and that losses can, in various ways, lead to later success.
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Posted in Career Happiness, Career Strategy, Networking, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fast, Good, Cheap – Choose Two

FAST-GOOD-CHEAP PHOTOI first heard this apparently well-known phrase about selecting lawyers a month ago when my friend Doug Levinson used it in describing how clients select lawyers.  The phrase struck me as inherently true, but also so cynical that it should mostly be said behind closed doors.  Still, because it is true, when lawyers present themselves, they need to actually or subliminally convey a clear message about which two qualities they generally offer.

Let’s examine these characteristics one at a time, in the context of lawyers and legal services.

Fast:  Regarding legal work, “fast” is not determined by hours, days or weeks.  Fast in legal work means efficient, and efficient varies by assignment.
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Posted in Career Strategy, Legal Skills, Reputation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments