Employers need information to make good decisions

framed strategyEmployers are neither sleuths nor ferrets: they need information.

Employers need information to make good decisions about you. They can only act on the information you provide.

You have read the job description and discussed the position with your network. Having carefully considered it, you know why you are applying, and what experience you have to support your candidacy. Employers know what they know when you have shared information. Important, illuminating information must be shared in your resume and cover letter, and reflected in the recommendations that your network provides.

A primed network.

Once your network is primed and ready, you can deploy them to act on your behalf. Help your recommenders help you by telling them how the details of your mutual connection is relevant to the job you are seeking now. The information shared in your documents and reinforced by your recommenders will help prospective employers understand why you are the right candidate.

Employers need information to make good decisions, and telepathy is not a job search tool. Share information.

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Three-point checklist for 3Ls

3ls framedThis three-point checklist for 3Ls is a working document for students who have yet to find their career paths. Its theme is Waste no time.

Between now and graduation, you have a huge block of time. Don’t waste it. You may have lost your zest for outlining, and your 1L study group pals are busy with journals, moot courts, clinics, job searches, and pre-graduation frolics. Don’t become a couch potato unless you expect employment from Couch Potatoes International. You have to get up and do what needs to be done.

1.  While applying for jobs, answer these questions out loud.

“Why do I want to be a lawyer?” and “Why do I want this job for which I have just sent an application?” Answer the questions out loud. Practice. Think. Practice. Think.

The clearer you are about the answers to these questions, the more comfortable you will be in formal and informal interviews. “Informal interviews” cover the conversations you have at bars, gyms, grocery stores, movie lines, and at your parents’ dinner table.

2. If you are still haven’t decided what you want to do, try these exercises:

a.      Go to monster.com or careerbuilder.com and use advanced-search mode with and without “JD/lawyer” as search terms. Carefully review the results. Let your imagination fuel your search terms. Find something that’s interesting to you and explore it. You cannot outsource this task.

b.     What would you be doing had you not come to law school? Are you still interested? Find out how you might use legal training to do that work. Explore adding law to the toolbox that runs that job.

c.      Have you taken traditional assessment tests? (Myers-Briggs, Strong-Campbell, etc.) Get some career assessment testing through your law career office or your undergraduate school. No test will reveal a concrete result (“You should be a firefighter”), but you may get important clues that will serve you well. The tests may give you some things to think about. Think. Explore.

d.     What was your favorite class in law school? Do you like it enough to try to forge a career from it? Talk to law career services professionals. Do not be discouraged when faculty and others say “There is no job for you in this town fighting human trafficking.”

Example: Human Trafficking

                                               i.     You can find human trafficking and and its Evil Twin, domestic violence, it in every city and county in America.

                                             ii.     You can hone your fighting human trafficking skills while using the tools that fight domestic violence, which, mercifully, remains illegal in this country.

                                            iii.     Take the Watergate-Era’s Deep Throat’s best advice to heart (“Follow the money”), and seek funding for work that looks like fighting human trafficking and domestic violence from a variety of public and private sources. Use your imagination. Brainstorm with others. Do not sit this one out.

e.      Why did you decide to come to law school? Review your reason (look at your personal statement ), and consider how (if at all) you have changed. You know much more about law and law as a tool for problem solving than you did when you took the LSAT. How much better prepared are you to pursue your original goals?

3.   Telepathy is not a job search tool.

You have to get out of your couch potato comfort zone and talk (yes, talk on the phone or in person) to people who have the jobs that you want. Ask smart questions.

  • Avoid the #1 Dumb Time-waster Slacker Question: “What is a typical day like?” Answer: “Every day is different. Why are you wasting my time? Get out of my office.”
  •  Ask questions that get to the heart of reasons for doing a job: the challenges (personnel, budget, time-management), the emotional toll (public defenders’ good result is less jail time; family lawyers’ milieu is constant conflict); the things that keep lawyers up at night; the things that keep them coming back to the work.
  • Read everything you can about the work that you want to do. Explore it. Examine it. Change your mind. Find a new goal and start again.

Get started. Waste no time.

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Lawyers, math, and the business of law

best tiny dollarAs a headhunter and career counselor for lawyers for more than a quarter of a century, I am always surprised to hear law students’ and lawyers’ disregard for math and the business of law. Ignore the business side at your peril.

They would say: “If I wanted to be in business, I would have gotten an MBA.” If I had a nickel for everyone who said this, I would have had a room full of nickels.

Business of Law: math, finance, accounting

Whether you are in private, public, corporate, or non-profit practices, the engine driving the train is money. You don’t need an accounting or finance degree to understand the the nuances of  your organization’s financial life, but there are some questions that you need to ask.

Whether you are new to the practice or a senior, experienced professional, you need a clear idea of:

Where does the money comes from?
Fee-for-service. Contingent fees. Alternative billing arrangements. Restricted or unrestricted grants. Individual or corporate philanthropy.Agency fund-raising. Government funding (national, state, local) from legislative action that requires annual renewal or that has been embedded into statutes.

Who governs the organization? How do they do it?
Board of Directors. Executive Director reporting to a board. CEO reporting to a Board. Management committee with multiple sub-committees. Single Tzar-manager.  Small group of founders meeting every week, eating pizza, and managing the enterprise. If you were to make a list of governance configurations, you would be writing until next Tuesday. Make sure that you know how your  organization works.

How is compensation determined? Compensation set by government or civil service rules. Owners get an agreed-upon piece of the pie. Single autonomous compensation tzar. Compensation committee allocates all annual compensation and bonuses. By seniority. By an “eat what you kill” system. There are almost as many compensation systems as there are organizations. Find out how your system works.

How is your compensation set? If you are to get a bonus, what are the standards or goals that you were to have attained? If you are junior, will you be compensated for work generated from clients that you bring? If you are a partner, do you understand generation and proliferation credits and all other permutations of work attribution? If you are making a lateral move, how will you be credited for work that you bring from your previous firm? How will your work be billed on work that you bring from your previous firm?

Bad story. Lateral partner makes a well-publicized move to a firm full of his long-time personal and professional pals. On a handshake, he brings a significant book of active, ongoing business. At the end of the year, he finds that the firm has charged him his retail (high) hourly rate for the work that he did on those files. Instead of earning more than $200K on the work, he “earned” less than $20K. Get all of your compensation agreements in writing.

How will you be trained and evaluated? Does the employer provide or support a list of core competencies that you will have to attain so that your progress can be charted and evaluated? Does the employer provide or reimburse you for necessary continuing education? Who evaluates you? How often can you expect formal evaluation? Is it your responsibility to create a network of informal evaluators? Your goal is to create a professional framework that will take all possible surprises out of your annual evaluation.

How are your clients governed? All of the questions that apply to your relationship with your organization apply to your clients and their employee/business relationships. Ask the tough questions. Your clients will benefit from your complete knowledge.

Before you join a new employer, ask questions until you understand the governance and compensation systems. You don’t have your own lawyer? Get one before you sign on any dotted line.

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How NOT to ask for a drink at a party

Career services professionals generally agree that the most embarrassing stories from the worlds of recruiting and work revolve around alcohol. One way to avoid becoming a Famous Career Adviser Story comes from the Always Correct Culture and Manners Institute‘s Etiquette Tip of the Week: 
When you are invited to a cocktail party in someone’s home and you are asked what you would like to drink, your response should not be “I’d like a Bombay Sapphire martini straight up with bleu cheese stuffed olives and have the vermouth blow the martini a kiss.”
The proper response is “What are you serving?”
If you are hosting the party, be able to recite a few of the beverages that you have available, along with any specialty cocktails. Be sure to offer non-alcoholic beverages as well for non-drinkers and designated drivers.
Free Clip Art Provided by Artclips.com. Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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First Year Orientation: good, bad or horrid

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First year orientation: when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid

First year orientation planners.

First year orientation is planned by people who want you to have a good time and to learn a lot about being a law student and a little bit about being a lawyer. No one wants you to walk away from orientation either terrified or in tears. If you find yourself in either state, see your Dean of Students as soon as you can. Fear and terror are not part of the ABA-approved curriculum

First year orientation usually features:

  • Lofty thoughts from judges, deans, and famous alumni (speeches; panels; networking events);
  • Opportunities (not to be missed) to connect with other 1Ls;
  • Mock classes conducted (usually) by very gifted teachers;
  • Meetings with your new professors;
  • Professionalism presentations (pay close attention to these);
  • A quick word from Career Services (you will hear more from them in late October);
  • Reminders to keep your law school application up to date (including the felonies that you forgot to list. Oh. Yes. This is serious.);
  • Campus or city tours;
  • A trip to the bookstore (bring money);
  • Introduction to student groups and activities (Pick a group and connect. A disconnected student is often a desperately unhappy student. There is no reason to hide.);
  • Really good food, if you’re lucky; and
  • Opportunities to drink yourself silly with your new classmates (not a terrific idea)

A few things that are often NOT on the orientation agenda:

On your first trip into the Law Library, you will exclaim “All of these books look alike!” You may be stressed because:

  • they do, indeed, look alike,
  • you haven’t been inside a library in a long time, or
  • you haven’t held a book in your hand in five years and believe that everything you will ever need to know you can find on-line. (Oh, how wrong you are.)

When you sit down to brief your first case:

  • You will have no idea what you are doing;
  • You will then be astonished when someone in class nails the professor’s question about the case that you didn’t understand. (Fret not. That student has probably worked as a paralegal for the past five years.)

When you sit down in your first class:

  • You will believe that everyone in the room is smarter than you. (It’s not true. Get over that as quickly as you can.)
  • You will believe that the “right” answer is just out of reach. (Not true. If you have a truly gifted Socratic method teacher, you will never get the right answer, but you will enjoy the journey of trying to find it. If your professor is not so gifted, standing up to be grilled can be an alarming and painful experience.) All of this is in service of getting you to “think like a lawyer.” Have someone explain that to you, and keep asking until you get a satisfactory explanation.
  • If you imagined that you could get by with a quick and not-so-thoughtful run through the reading without trying to understand what you read because that worked for you as an undergrad, you are delusional. (You will find this out soon enough.)
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10 Tips for Managing Bar Review

3ls candara
10 tips for managing bar review will get you through until the exam. This will all be over soon, and successfully, too, if you follow these steps. 
1.  Make a schedule that reflects your study habits. If you are an 8-hour-a-day study person, don’t ramp it up to 12 hours. The last four will be a waste.
2.  Mark your study area territory. Minimize distractions, and, if possible, make it a protected space. If you have young children, find a public library with quiet space.
3. Get your study tool box together. Whether you are working from an on-line study system or from books, make sure that you have all of the tools that you need to move from topic to topic without having to worry about batteries or pencils.
4. If you are studying with a group, set out guidelines about the things that matter to you.  Food? Drink? Timeliness? Each party’s responsibilities? Sharing? In what form? Bar study time is no time for study-group drama.
5.  Manage yourself. Eat right, get exercise, and get regular sleep. The Four Food Groups are not “sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine.” Exercise is more than opening the door to the pizza delivery person. Sleep is not 15 minutes between jolts of caffeine.
6.  Manage friends and family. Explain (over and over) that the Bar Exam is the huge mountain you must climb before becoming a lawyer. Sound both sad and disappointed that you won’t be able to take off two days to celebrate July 4 with your pals. Promise (and keep your promise) to show up to family dinners and events after the exam. If you do not yet have a job, everyone will be quivering with anxiety on your behalf. Let them know that you are doing appropriate job search activities while studying, and promise to keep them up-to-date after the Bar Exam.
7.  Manage your test days. Have you registered to type the bar exam? Do you have a place to stay that is near the test center? Have you made a trial run from where you will sleep to where you will take the test? Do you have emergency cab fare? If you are taking the bar exam in two states in three days, do you have a Transportation Plan B.
8.  Caring for content. The Bar Exam will not contain nuclear physics questions. Do not get rattled when you encounter issues that you have not studied, or questions that could have more than one answer. Grads of 1984 are still confounded by a question that could have been about privacy or about search and seizure, and by a question that required knowing The Rule in Shelley’s Case — not that the Rule was abrogated in all 50 states, but the substance of the Rule itself. Focus on the subjects that you studied.
9.  Review the advice from the Board of Law Examiners, which probably included some or all of the following:
              a.           Set out a time for answering each question beginning 12 o’clock. Beg, borrow, but do not steal a reliable wrist watch for this.
b.           Read each question at least twice. Stop and think before you write or type.
c.           Follow the directions, which might ask for a letter to a client, a memo to a partner, a pleading, or another document. Give the readers what they want. (NOTE: They prefer complete sentences, too.)
d.           Your test will be scored against something that looks like a very complete model answer. You get points for everything including that noting that something is “A Constitutional Law Question involving state action.”
e.           Mind your manners. Do not freak out, loose your cool or get snarky in your bar exam writing. Bar exam graders are authorized to refer candidates for another level of review by the Character and Fitness committee, and consequences may include delaying and denying admission.                        
              f.            Leave your cell phone at home.  Should it ring in some jurisdictions, you and the phone will be removed instantly. You will then take the February bar.
10.   Stop talking to test takers two weeks before the exam.They will remember things that that you have never studied or they will remember things that you know are incorrect. Stay focused on what you know.
Additional reading
Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law (or other) Students, I’am a 3L…What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota (Lost Cave Paintings, Wild Parrots of the Winter of 2013, Tiny Wild Hummingbirds, Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, and Saint Paul’s Backyard Roosters’ Haven.) She speaks at the invitation of Career Professionals, Deans of Students, Student Bar Associations and other student groups, Alumni and Bar Associations, and Bar Review Vendors. 
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A single-minded sprint to finals?

A single-minded sprint to finals? After spring break you have options that maximize study time without sacrificing job search strategies.

  •   Hunker down now. Up the ante on studying. Finish, tweak, and  memorize outlines. Outline the note cases. Listen to recordings of every class for which there is a record. Take practice exams daily.
  •   Double down on job search until two weeks before finals. Then, proceed with #1.

As in Star Wars™, there is another. Another way, that is.

Count your time.

Count the number of weeks until finals. Be honest with yourself and count the number of hours each week that you devote to studying and to job search.

Create a schedule: keep panic in check.

If  you are a reasonably diligent student, you need not make radical alterations to your study habits. If you are an eight-hour-a-day person, there is no point in trying to put in 15-hour days. Within your comfort zone, create a sliding schedule, front-loading job search in late March and early April. Gradually decrease the job search hours and increase study hours. If you make a plan and work the plan, you may be able to control your time and keep your panic level in check.

Spring Job Search Bonus Alert!

The working world does not stop because you are studying for finals, so don’t stop applying for jobs and don’t abandon your networking. More jobs are posted in April than in any other month. Why? Employers who are  focused on getting client work done, are tipped by their kids’ upcoming summer camp schedule to think “It must be time for a summer law clerk.” Thus, there are jobs posted during finals. Don’t get cranky. Be prepared with a freshly dry-cleaned suit, a clean shirt, and polished shoes.

Interviewing during finals.

It happens. Be glad that you got the call. Employers may not be willing to wait to conduct your interview until after finals, however, they are usually willing to interview around your exam schedule.

Go to the interview. Knock it out of the ballpark. Get back to studying.

___Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law Students, I’am a 3L…What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota. At her Small Friends‘ website, find Lost Cave Paintings,  Wild Parrots of the Winter of 2013, Tiny Wild Hummingbirds, Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, and Saint Paul’s Backyard Rooster Haven.

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10 Tips for Moving a Small Practice

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10 tips for moving a small practice

(Based on a comment posted to a lawyerist.lab post.

10 tips for moving a small practice help you focus on big picture issues and  tiny details.  Start your list and get to work.

Harness school connections

1.   Contact your law school career office. Its staff may be familiar with alumni in your new area. They should be delighted to make introductions because they know that introductions may lead to new job connections for current students and other grads.

2.   Ditto your law school development and alumni relations offices. Those professionals know that contented grads may make donations.

3.   Ditto your undergraduate school’s career and alumni professionals. Graduates of these programs may not be lawyers, which is a good thing. Never forget that you are looking for clients.

Harness personal and professional connections

4.   Announce your move in every paper and electronic publication associated with any part of your personal and professional life. Don’t forget your high school classmates who you have found on Facebook. Unless you have been paying close attention, you won’t know that the person with whom you shared a frog-dissection experience lives in your new location.

5.   Tell everyone you know including the person who cuts your hair. You can’t know that your hair cutter’s brother-in-law is the mayor of your new location unless you share your news.

Take action: choose volunteer activities wisely

6.   Join and become active in bar associations in your new area. Whether you join local or state bars or specialty bars, choose wisely so that you can make a real contribution to the organization.

7.   Find a civic organization that you can support with enthusiasm.

Recreate referral sources

8.   Because you are moving an existing practice (or traveling with an existing skill set), you know your target clients and referral sources, or at least you know where they hang out. For example, an elder law practice benefits from giving presentations in nursing homes, houses of worship, meetings with bankers, social workers, etc. You know your referral sources. Find them and connect.

Welcome people into your new space

9.    Announce the opening of your office in the local newspapers (paper and electronic versions.) Host an open house.

10.  Opening a physical office? Find a local arts organization and offer wall space to artists on a rotating basis. Art openings = visits from potential clients.

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3L Bad Idea: Skipping the July Bar

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bar exams framedMid-February is the time when some 3Ls begin contemplating a bad idea: skipping the July bar. Banish that thought and sign up.

Three good excuses for skipping a July bar

  1.         Donating a kidney.
  2.         Having a baby.
  3.         Caring for family members in crisis.

Two not-so-good excuses for skipping a July bar

  •  I don’t know where I will practice.
  •  I’m tired of studying/I need a break.
  •  I don’t know where I will practice.

Where will I practice?

If you don’t know where you will practice, sign up for the least expensive bar that you can find or the bar exam that many of your classmates are taking.You will never care more about Torts and Contracts than you will just after graduation. Taking the bar with your law school pals allows you to wink at your pals when someone from another law school is clueless about something that you all learned in ConLaw. Thank your first year profs.

Read the ABA Section on Legal Education & Admission to the Bar’s extremely helpful and detailed Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission [for your year] . Some bar examiners allow you to apply multi-state scores from a recent bar exam, although you may be required to have been admitted.

Check each state’s bar examiner website for changes made since the Comp Guide for your years was published.

Note: This recommendation also applies to trailing spouse/partners of professionals whose locations in September after graduation are as-yet-unknown.

Major push-back

“It’s a waste of time and money to take a bar exam for a place where I might not practice.”

If you take and pass a July bar, you will be a lawyer by November or December of that year. If you wait to take and pass a February bar, you probably won’t be admitted until May following your graduation, half a year behind your class. Should you fail a February bar and take and pass the next July bar, you will be a year behind your class in your attorney job search, possibly unable to call yourself a lawyer for two years. What will you do in the meantime?

Interview issue: 20 seconds or 20 minutes?

Prospective employers expect that you will have taken and passed the first bar exam after your graduation, and you will be quizzed closely about anything that is out of pattern. The unarguable kidney-childbirth-family-care explanation takes 20 seconds; anything else may take more of your 20-minute screening interview than you can afford to waste.

I am tired of studying/I need a break.

Having chosen to become a lawyer, you have signed up for lifelong learning. If you really need a break, take it after the bar exam. Enjoy that time, because it may be the last long vacation that you have for a very long time.


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