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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.

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.

As a young lawyer, my first assignment was to write a memo about the effect on municipal bonds of the now defunct Glass Steagall Act.  I told the assigning partner I had not taken banking at law school.  His response was, “So?”  Several days later he received a memo analyzing several questions.

Welcome to lawyering.  For the rest of your career, you hope new things will come up.  (If not, you may be bored to death.)  It is good to learn early that you should never assume you know everything.  If you learned how to read carefully in law school, first take your questions to books and the internet.   Be thorough.  Then, when many of your questions have been answered, you can and should go to a fellow lawyer. Get suggestions about how to pursue answers for your remaining questions.  Lawyering is about experience, and fellow lawyers who have worked on similar issues are likely to be your best teachers.  However, they do not want to teach you stuff you could have learned yourself  through reading and research.  If you have done your work first, no one should be annoyed with inquiries about where to search for the rest of your answers.  They may even answer your questions themselves.

See Study Suggests Smart Workers See Out Advice,

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.

Many law firms have a renewed willingness to bring on lawyers with moderate books of business, a business track record, a realistic business plan and a rainmaking attitude. Correspondingly, now that lawyers see their professional lives as reasonably stable, they are interested in finding a new firm that makes career sense, but does not require unrealistic guaranties. Both sides are no longer holding out for the extraordinary, and anxiety is no longer making them cling to the status quo.

As a result of this renewed optimism, partners with only moderate books of business are leaving firms that have been good to them, but have also kept them down because others, with more business, power, or both, needed their hours. These “partner level” (usually non-equity) lawyers are moving to something only slightly better initially, because the new firm has the potential to be astoundingly better for them, and the old one did not.

The lateral lawyers can substantially contribute in the new firm because they now have time to develop and do work for their own clients. They are not locked in to effectively functioning as associates. Partners who had not been given enough time or any budget to growing their books, are welcome as true partners at firms where they are helped and encouraged to expand their client base. In rainmaking, luck is always a factor, but so is encouragement and freedom.

These moves are investigated with great caution. Will my clients indeed follow me? Can I expand my client base? Who besides me will keep me busy? Can I get anyone to do work I bring in but cannot do myself? These questions all need to be investigated.

Lateral partner moves that give lawyers both greater ability and greater responsibility to bring in business make it impossible to precisely predict compensation. It is possible to predict a range of likely compensation, and perhaps establish a floor, generally without a guaranty. However, when your book is a major factor in your income, the only locked-in compensation offers that can be made are ones most laterals would rather not accept. The best you can do is see what your hours and collections would have netted you at the new firm had you been there for the last few years.

The opportunity to move beyond an effectively salaried position is the reason many younger partners want to leave their current firms. It is freeing to no longer be someone else’s assistant, and only grudgingly allowed to develop your own client base.

Whether a new firm has work for a lateral partner varies, but is seldom a mystery before the move is made. Regardless of whether the new firm has work for a new moderate rainmaker, what ends up happening is that a substantial portion of the lateral’s compensation is based on his or her production, and is therefore his or her responsibility. This can be scary, but is also empowering.

Risk is a double edged sword. Someone who does not feel able or willing to take primary responsibility for his or her own compensation, should not move out of a service partner role. Service partners are still needed, but less and less so. But if you do not control your own professional life, someone else will, and you may not like the results.

In large part, the differences between being an employee (regardless of your title) or moving to a situation where your own business skills control your career and compensation is a choice about attitude. Do you believe in your own rainmaking skills? Can you accept defeats, which are inevitable, and move on from them? Can you live with regular uncertainty about your compensation?

Fear and faith can co-exist. However, since in a true financial partnership (as opposed to a salaried position) it is impossible to accurately predict your future income, acting with confidence, resilience and acceptance of the results is likely to produce the best overall outcome. It will inevitably produce more professional happiness.

If you are moving, it helps to believe you are as valuable as the firm that hired you does. Keep plugging away and making connections, for yourself and your partners. When combined with hard work (and a willingness to sometimes fail because you will) confidence and resilience are building blocks for an upward career trajectory. Appreciate the opportunity.

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

Tattoo Removal

A cynical and successful business lawyer I know believes there are three universal questions within law firms: “Who’s boss?”, “How loyal are you?”, and “How long are you planning to stay with the firm?” Some might say that the mere act of considering these questions as paramount undercuts any real concern for colleagues. Still, from what I have seen, as a rainmaking and recruiting consultant, most firms include lawyers who work well together and like each other. However, when significant energy is spent on intra-firm power and money struggles the result is unhappy lawyers, or worse. Sometimes the power plays and money divisions are so intolerable to lawyers that they start to leave the firm. When enough people leave, it can start a dangerous downward spiral. Over the years, local and national law firms of varying sizes have been significantly harmed, and sometimes closed, over the issue of how authority and money is divided.
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Posted in Compensation, Internal Firm Relations, Law Firm Profits | Tagged , , | 3 Comments