Category Archives: Blog

Improve Your Mentor Relationship

Lawyers and law students can be very resistant to networking. It is such an overarching and intimidating term, unless you break it down into specific goals or skills. One of the most important networking effort you could make to advance your career this year is to identify, engage and work with a mentor who has your best interests at heart.

That’s right, mentoring is a powerful form of networking! The basics of your networking relationships are also important fundamentals of creating and nurturing a good mentoring relationship. We break it down into an easily remembered system.

The 4 Cs of boosting your career with a mentor relationship…

Clarity

It’s not fair to expect a mentor to magically help you figure out your life or offer a cure-all tip. It’s unrealistic, and you need to do the heavy lifting. In order to get the maximum benefit from a mentor relationship, you need to be clear on what it is that you need guidance or support with. Just like you are told to have an elevator pitch for what it is that you do, or the job you are seeking, you should be able to break down into a sound bite what it is that you hope to work on with your mentor. Maybe it is substantive experience (tagging along to depositions, etc.), networking tips, client development assistance, navigating firm politics, or dealing with work-life balance. Regardless, being able to clearly state to a mentor what it is that you hope to get help with will allow them to help you more successfully.

Connection

One of the most important aspects of a mentor relationship is something that can’t be forced (take it from a successful lawyer & mentor, Jeff Selser). It is imperative that you and your mentor connect in a meaningful way, sharing personal or professional goals, communication styles, and/or shared interests. It is great that firms and schools offer mentor pairing programs, but if the mentor you have been paired with is just not someone you connect with, you may not be getting a fair assessment of how beneficial a mentor can be for you. Relationships that organically develop with a legal professional you respect can turn into great mentor relationships.

Communication

First and foremost, someone you consider a mentor should know it. It is so important to communicate with someone you have identified as a potential mentor to see if you are on the same page and ask if they are willing to serve as a mentor. This conversation can feel a little like a third grade “will you date me, check yes or no” effort – but it is worthwhile. Different people have different expectations of what a mentor commits do doing with a mentee, and you will get the most benefit if you are able to have clarity around the support you want, and then communicate your goals to a mentor. If they are on board you need to continue to keep the lines of communication clear and open with your mentor to help them help you.

Collaboration

Being in a mentor relationship is a two-way street. You can’t expect a mentor to fix your problems for you, but it can be great to help strategize and implement new tactics or efforts, and then assess the results. The more engaged you can get your mentor, and show interest in the suggestions they give you, the more likely it is that they will continue to give you advice when needed. Bring your mentor on as part of your team rather than a disconnected observer and get after your goals together. Also, make sure that when you can offer support for your mentor that you are willing to do it. You are getting to know this person and benefiting from their generosity of time and talent – once in a while ask if you can do anything to help them, make a referral for their practice that makes sense, or go above and beyond to show them you appreciate their assistance.

Get your strategy in place for working with a mentor this year!

If you feel like your mentor relationship could use a revamp, or you are starting from scratch and considering how to identify and engage a mentor, you might need some support or suggestions. Happy Go Legal is offering a webinar March 27th entitled “Are you missing an MVP on your team? Find out how a mentor relationship can propel your career.

Register Now and enter Discount Code “hglmentor27” to save $20

Even If You Have a Juris Doctorate Degree, the Game Has Changed

Continuing our discussion of “confronting the brutal facts” in a career search: One of the brutal facts we all must face is that the game has changed. Previously, a law degree was practically a guarantee of employment in a professional position. If you had a law degree, you might not be assured of incredible success and excitement, but you were almost certainly going to be able to get a pretty good, professional level job. This was one of the main benefits of getting a law degree. Even if you decided not to practice law, your J.D. gave you something “to fall back on.”

That “almost guarantee” benefit of a J.D. no longer exists, and that is a tough pill for many to swallow. After all, most law graduates did the right things. We worked hard; got good grades; played the game and held up our end of the bargain. The market did not hold up its end of the bargain and that is difficult to accept.

However, accept it we must if we want to move forward with our careers and our lives. Again, this is where we must “confront the brutal facts” that the game has changed. We don’t have to like it, but we are wasting time if we spend our energy complaining about the new game. A much better, more productive use of our energy is to play the new game to the best of our ability.

So how do we play the new game? It starts with having a plan, and the first step in the plan is to choose a definite target. A common mistake I see among job seekers, particularly law students and recent law school graduates, is taking the approach they are looking for “a job, any job.”

As tempting as this approach might be, it is a major mistake that is often counter-productive. Employers can sense desperation, and they do not like it. Rather than searching for “a job,” job seekers would be much better off taking the time to deliberately choose a specific practice area or career field that appeals to them, and then pursue that area or field vigorously. This approach makes for a much better story when interviewing and networking, and it makes networking more effective.

It is much easier for someone to make a referral or suggest a contact if they have a specific career field for context. Conversely, if you meet someone and tell them you want “a job,” it is very difficult for them to know how they can help you with a referral or contact. The possibilities for “a job” are just too numerous for them to be of any real help.

In the next blog posting, we will look at the next steps in playing the new game.

Attorney Career Options Outside the Legal World

Attorneys seeking to work outside of the field of law have numerous options. Many attorneys successfully make the transition and enjoy satisfying careers in business and public service. For example, many politicians have a legal background (25 of the 44 presidents have been lawyers). Others may work as lobbyists or in governmental relations roles.

Corporations often hire attorneys who have both technical training and the ability to manage teams. In regulated industries, such as utilities and banking, attorneys are valued because of their specialized knowledge and training. There are a number of CEO’s who have a legal background. According to the ABA Journal (May, 2010), nine of the Fortune 50 companies have a lawyer as CEO. Given the recent financial scandals, and trends towards regulation, the risk management and problem solving mindset of many attorney are valued traits in the corporate world.

Finding the Right Legal Specialty

We appreciate the positive review of the Lawfit Career Assessment Test from Lori Tripoli on her blog, Contemporary Law Office Management. Lori is also the author of the book, Contemporary Law Office Management.

I was enthused to learn about a new online service, LawFit, that helps lawyers and law students identify where, or on what, in the field they would like to work. Using an online assessment, the service measures preferences, values, and interests to help currently practicing attorneys as well as those about to enter the workforce, find the right niche in the legal marketplace, whether that is in a law firm or elsewhere.

I haven’t tried LawFit, but I would likely be interested if I were less sure of where I was going. When I was a young associate, many of my colleagues seemed to fall into specialties by chance. Their firm had a need, and they followed. Some opted out of potentially vibrant practice areas because the group leaders were dour, or more than typically difficult. Others had goals in mind that didn’t quite seem in line with the firm they’d opted to work for. Want to help the poor? Working at a large law firm might not be the most direct route to do so, unless you’re planning on helping simply by writing big checks.

A career counselor can provide some validation. I sought one out after I ditched my big-firm existence. I’d been kicking around a dream of becoming a writer. All of the testing I did pointed to exactly that. I felt far more comfortable pursuing a writing track than I had when I was fresh out of law school and too timid to veer from the path seemingly set for me.
A service like that of LawFit, or of any career counselor, could be helpful even mid-career. People change. In my early 20s, I had no interest at all in being a litigator, wasn’t quick on my feet, and would not have enjoyed the pressure associated with courtroom performance. As I matured—and practiced—my speaking skills improved and I became more comfortable being on the spot. Judges and others are no longer quite so intimidating. I don’t stumble as much if I cannot quickly come up with an answer. By my early 40s, I’d found a different venue: teaching. I’ve been fortunate to combine my law background and my communications skills to introduce others to a vibrant field. I am grateful that way back when, a bunch of test results confirmed that I’d be well-suited to the me I had in mind rather than the me I was at the time.

—Lori Tripoli

Employment Opportunities for Law School Grads: Confronting the Brutal Facts

The ability to “confront the brutal facts” is one of the most critical elements of success. This was arguably George Washington’s greatest leadership trait, and Jim Collins talks about this ability in his well known business book, Good to Great. If you have this ability, it means that you are able to evaluate circumstances as they actually are, and not as you wish them to be. You are able to accept present reality and choose your actions accordingly, no matter how unfortunate present reality may be.

As it relates to employment opportunities for law school graduates, the ability to confront the brutal facts is essential on both an individual level and a global market level. On an individual level, this means you must take an honest look at the reality of your personal situation when you are making career decisions.

You need to be realistic about your career options. If you planned to be a corporate finance lawyer with an AmLaw 100 firm, but you graduated in the middle of the pack from a lower tier law school, then you probably need to adjust your career plans. If you want to use your law degree to help you advance in the business world as opposed to the legal world, you probably will not start off with a salary like those at the top of the legal market. If you want be a Sports or Entertainment lawyer, but you want to live in the small town in which you grew up, then something has to give.

I believe one of the issues we have today is that many people would like their J.D. to be a type of guarantee. They want it to not only promise employment, but also exciting career options and unlimited opportunities. This is not reality and is not confronting the brutal facts.

Your law degree will help create opportunities for you and it is an asset, despite what the skeptics say. However, you will not magically be handed the job of your dreams simply because you have a J.D.

Yes, the employment market is tough, and yes, there have been legitimate questions about transparency in the legal employment market. Confronting the brutal facts means that we must accept these difficulties as a part of the present reality. Wishing things were different does not make them different and more importantly, it does not help us reach our career goals.

Taking an honest look at your background, experience and interests, and then evaluating those within the context of the current market are the first steps in reaching your career objectives. In the next blog posting, we will continue to look at we must confront the brutal facts in order to progress in our career paths.

A Strategy For Changing Times

The legal profession has changed dramatically and the job market for lawyers is tough. Not exactly breaking news, right? Anyone who has any connection to the legal industry knows that the Great Recession, and other factors such as technology, alternative legal service providers and LPO’s, have had a severe impact on the industry which is still being felt today. Numerous articles and books have been written about this topic and I don’t see much point in rehashing it here.

Instead, I’d like to shift the conversation to the related questions which have not been discussed nearly as much and which, in my opinion, are more important: What are we going to do about it? What is the best way for members of the legal profession to proceed in the New Normal?

We all know about the problems, and while it is important to understand the nature of the problems and the underlying reasons for them, it is more important to develop a strategy for addressing the problems. My hope for all of us, as members of the legal community, is that we will begin to spend more time searching for individual solutions and less time focused on the difficulties facing the profession.

This will not be easy, of course, and there will not be a universal panacea. The solutions will require both individual efforts as well as institutional initiatives. But I believe lawyers are up to the challenge. Lawyers are, with few exceptions, intelligent, creative, driven, goal-oriented professionals. A person cannot graduate from law school and pass the Bar exam without these personal attributes. These same attributes can be used by attorneys to overcome the present challenges of the legal market.

The profession has taken a hit, a big hit. We’ve been knocked down by an economic downturn and relentless market forces. It’s time to get back up and make a plan for moving forward. The legal profession of the 90’s and early 00’s is gone. We can lament that fact and spend our energy wishing things could be like that again, or we can accept that reality and figure out what we are going to do about it. The choice is ours.